The Uttarakhand Assembly on November 30 passed a Bill to provide 30 per cent horizontal reservation to local women in state government services. This comes weeks after the Supreme Court lifted an Uttarakhand High Court stay on a 2006 order of the government, providing the same benefit.
The Uttarakhand Public Services (Horizontal Reservation for Women) Bill, 2022 has now been sent for the Governor’s signature.
What does the Bill say?
In the Bill’s statement of objects and reasons, the government says that due to Uttarakhand’s geographical structure, people living in remote areas lead a difficult life, especially the women. Because of this, their standard of living is below the women of other states. Also, women have very little representation in the state’s public services.
The Bill proposes to plug these gaps by providing women with 30 per cent horizontal reservation in public services and posts, in addition to the existing quotas applicable in the state. The beneficiaries need to be women with a domicile certificate of Uttarakhand.
The reservation will be applicable for posts in local authorities, Uttarakhand co-operative committees in which the holding of the state government is not less than 51 per cent of share capital, board or corporation or legal body established by any central or Uttarakhand State Act which is under the ownership or control of the state government, and any educational institution under the ownership and control of the state government or which receives grants in aid from the state government.
If enough women are not available to fill the reserved seats, they wil be filled with qualified male candidates in the order of proficiency.
What is horizontal reservation?
In December 2020, the Supreme Court clarified the position of the law on the interplay of vertical and horizontal reservations. A decision by a two-judge Bench in the case of Saurav Yadav versus State of Uttar Pradesh dealt with issues arising from the way different classes of reservation were to be applied in the selection process to fill posts of constables in the state.
In simple terms, while a vertical reservation applies separately for each of the groups specified under the law, the horizontal quota is always applied separately to each vertical category, and not across the board.
Reservation for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, and Other Backward Classes is referred to as vertical reservation. Horizontal reservation refers to the equal opportunity provided to other categories of beneficiaries such as women, veterans, the transgender community, and individuals with disabilities, cutting through the vertical categories.
For example, if women have 50 per cent horizontal quota, then half of the selected candidates will have to necessarily be women in each vertical quota category — i.e., half of all selected SC candidates will have to be women, half of the unreserved or general category will have to be women, and so on.
How did the issue end up in court?
In July 2006, Uttarakhand issued a government order to provide 30 per cent horizontal reservation to women domiciled in the state, irrespective of their caste, creed, place of birth, place of origin, and social status.
The order was in operation till this year before being challenged in the Uttarakhand High Court by Pavitra Chauhan, Ananya Attri and others. These were women from outside the state belonging to the unreserved category who had appeared for the state civil examination. They pleaded that despite securing higher marks in the preliminary tests than the cut-off for women candidates with state domicile, they were denied the chance to appear for the main examination.
They challenged the GOs on the ground that they provide horizontal reservation in the examination conducted for the Uttarakhand Combined Service and Senior Service of the State Public Service Commission on the basis of women’s domicile status. The Uttarakhand High Court stayed the order and said the quota should be construed as a horizontal reservation for women irrespective of their domicile or place of residence.
The matter then went to the apex court. Challenging the High Court, the state’s standing counsel pleaded that the state’s terrain and climate forced its youth to migrate elsewhere in search of livelihood, leaving the responsibility to run the household and raise children on women. The standing counsel defended the decision to provide quota in public employment to such women, and in November, a bench of Justices S Abdul Nazeer and V Ramasubramanian lifted the HC stay.