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Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Explained: Efficiency and quota in promotions — what Supreme Court has said

Before Friday's order -- which held that a Karnataka statue allowing for reservation in promotions of SCs/STs is valid -- the court had, in September 2018, held there was no need to revisit the M Nagaraj case (2006) which spoke of quantifiable data being necessary to decide on reservation.

, Edited by Explained Desk |
Updated: May 13, 2019 9:57:44 am
The Central government has maintained it is now in favour of reservations in promotions.

In agitations and annoyance among Dalits and Scheduled Tribes about the “next stage” in the debate over quotas, reservations in promotions have been a big bone of contention. While it is true that just vacancies in posts meant for SCs and STs have been a cause for concern, reservation in promotions have been far more vexed.

While the Central government has maintained it is now in favour of reservations in promotions, the Supreme Court had, in a series of orders over the years, verged on the conservative.

Before Friday’s order — which held that a Karnataka statue allowing for reservation in promotions of SCs/STs is valid — the court had, in September 2018, held there was no need to revisit the M Nagaraj case (2006) which spoke of quantifiable data being necessary to decide on reservation.

What is the latest order about?

The order by a two-Judge bench of Justices D Y Chandrachud and U U Lalit upheld a Karnataka statute, allowing for reservations in promotion. The order stated that inclusive development, and not meritocracy, that were key to ensuring meaningful and substantive equality.

In the old battle often posited as one of between ‘merit’ and ‘social justice’, Friday’s order was a significant step. The Order said: “.. A ‘meritorious’ candidate is not merely one who is ‘talented’ or ‘successful’, but also one whose appointment fulfils the constitutional goals of uplifting members of the SCs and STs, and ensuring a diverse and representative administration.”

Article 335 of the Constitution states that the “claims of the members of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes shall be taken into consideration, consistently with the maintenance of efficiency of administration, in the making of appointments to services and posts in connection with the affairs of the Union or of a State”.

What the order says about ideas of “efficiency” and “merit”, make it path-breaking. “Since inclusion is inseparable from a well-governed society, there is, in our view, no antithesis between maintaining the efficiency of administration and considering the claims of the SCs and STs to appointments to services and posts in connection with the affairs of the Union or of a State.”

The order says: “The Constitution does not define what the framers meant by the phrase efficiency of administration. Article 335 cannot be construed on the basis of a stereotypical assumption that roster-point promotees drawn from the SCs and STs are not efficient or that efficiency is reduced by appointing them.”

“The benchmark for the efficiency of administration is not some disembodied, abstract ideal measured by the performance of a qualified open category candidate,” the judges said.

“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. If, as we hold, the Constitution mandates realisation of substantive equality in the engagement of the fundamental rights with the directive principles, inclusion together with the recognition of the plurality and diversity of the nation constitutes a valid constitutional basis for defining efficiency.”

“Our benchmarks will define our outcomes. If this benchmark of efficiency is grounded in exclusion, it will produce a pattern of governance which is skewed against the marginalised. If this benchmark of efficiency is grounded in equal access, our outcomes will reflect the commitment of the Constitution to produce just social order. Otherwise, our past will haunt the inability of our society to move away from being deeply unequal to one which is founded on liberty and fraternity.”

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