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

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Fresh Challenges to the 50% Limit on Vertical Reservations

The judicially imposed ceiling of 50% on vertical reservations in India has been questioned recently in two ways—the Supreme Court’s upholding of the 103rd Amendment Act, which allowed economically weaker section reservations beyond 50%, and the state legislations in Jharkhand and Karnataka, which have expanded reservations beyond 50% for backward classes. These should prompt fresh questions and debate about the wisdom and necessity of this artificial limit on vertical reservations.

The judicially imposed ceiling of 50% on vertical reservations in India has been questioned recently in two ways—the Supreme Court’s upholding of the 103rd Amendment Act, which allowed economically weaker section reservations beyond 50%, and the state legislations in Jharkhand and Karnataka, which have expanded reservations beyond 50% for backward classes. These should prompt fresh questions and debate about the wisdom and necessity of this artificial limit on vertical reservations.

In Kumar (2016), I had pointed out the constitutionally unsound basis for the judicially imposed artificial limit of 50% on the vertical reservations on jobs and seats in educational institutions (“vertical reservations”) under the Constitution. Although the 50% limit was firmly entrenched in constitutional law by the nine-judge bench judgment of the Supreme Court in Indra Sawhney v Union of India (1992),1 its underlying basis remains pragmatic rather than principled. Reservation laws that have increased vertical reservations beyond 50% have been repeatedly struck down by the Supreme Court and high courts. Most recently, it was used by a constitution bench of the Supreme Court to strike down a Maharashtra law, which included Marathas as “backward classes” for the purposes of vertical reservations in the state (Dr Jaishri Laxmanrao Patil v Chief Minister).2 Somewhat bizarrely, it was also used by the Supreme Court to strike down a measure by the Andhra Pradesh and Telangana governments to mandate the appointment of Scheduled Tribe (ST) teachers in schools located in the Adivasi areas (Chebrolu Leela Prasad Rao v State of Andhra Pradesh; Kumar 2020).3

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Updated On : 21st Nov, 2022
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