ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Reservations, Efficiency, and the Making of Indian Constitution

The notion that reservation is contrary to efficiency and merit has been invoked consistently. Even the Supreme Court of India seems to have agreed withthis proposition in  some judgments, as it held that Article 16(4), which provides for reservation in services, would be limited by Article 335, which mentions the term “efficiency of administration” in the Constitution. This paper explores the Constituent Assembly Debates to show that the Constitution framers did not subject reservations to the test of efficiency or merit. In addition, “efficiency of administration” mentioned under Article 335 cannot be treated as an exclusionary construct, as it was done in pre-independence era.


The author is grateful to Sukhadeo Thorat, Raja Sekhar Vundru, Surendra Kumar, Priyanka Preet, and Sudipti Saxena for their insights, comments, and assistance.

In the past seven decades of constitutional jurisprudence on reservations, the Supreme Court of India has consistently referred to the notions of “efficiency” and “merit,” while ­adjudicating the validity of various reservation policies. The Court has held in several judgments (Indra Sawhney and Others v Union of India and Others 1993; M Nagaraj and Others v Union of India and Others 2006) that the reservation policies made under Article 16(4)1 of the Constitution would be limited by Article 335,2 which provides for “maintenance of efficiency of administration,” while considering the claims of the Scheduled Castes (SCs) and the Scheduled Tribes (STs) in the making of appointments to public services and posts. This was done while the Constitution does not define the term “efficiency of administration.” This gap in interpretation was filled by a two-judge bench in the B K Pavitra (II) v Union of India (2019), as it held that “efficiency of adminis­tration in the affairs of the union or of a state must be defined in an inclusive sense, where diverse segments of society find representation as a true aspiration of governance by and for the people.”

In this paper, I have analysed the Constituent Assembly Debates to argue that contrary to what the larger benches of the Supreme Court assumed, the framers of the Constitution did not envisage that Article 16 would be limited by or subjected to Article 335. Furthermore, using B R Ambedkar’s writings, I have critiqued the notion of “efficiency of administration,” which has often been employed to cast aspersions on the concept of reservation. The phrase “efficiency of administration” was used as an exclusionary construct in the colonial and precolonial eras. This exclusionary understanding, I have ­argued, was rejected during the framing of the Constitution, and that thus the term “efficiency” cannot be used against the idea of reservations to exclude certain communities from ­public services.

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Updated On : 8th May, 2021
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