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December 29, 2020
4 months

Why in news?

The Supreme Court, in the recent Saurav Yadav v State of Uttar Pradesh, has ruled that the quota policy was not intended at denying meritorious candidates job opportunities even if they belong to reserved categories.

What does this mean?

  • Candidates belonging to reserved categories like SCs, STs, and OBCs can be appointed under open or general category, if they qualified on their own merit.
  • These candidates will not be counted under the reserved category.

What is the case about?

  • The case came up in the context of complications that arise from trying to specify the relationship between vertical and horizontal reservations.
  • Articles 15(4) and 16(4) enable vertical reservation.
    • This is based on categorising the population in terms of SC, ST, OBC and General Category.
  • On the other hand, horizontal reservation cuts across these vertical reservation categories.
    • These can include reservation for women, differently-abled persons, freedom fighters, army veterans and such
    • The Supreme Court called it as “interlocking reservations” in Indra Sawhney and Others v Union of India (1992).
  • Earlier, the Court had made it clear that horizontal reservation ought to be generally understood in compartmentalised terms.
  • This came as a nod to recognition of inequalities within each vertical category.
  • But, in the present case, the problem was different. It is however illustrative of some of the interpretive absurdities of the system.

What is the challenge in the present case?

  • There were 3,295 constable posts in the General Category of which 188 went to women (20% reservation for women).
  • In filling up the General Category vacancies, OBC women were not considered.
  • To note, the last female candidate selected in General Category secured 274.8298 marks. 21 applicants in the OBC female category scored more than these marks.
  • However, these OBC candidates were not considered against the available General Category seats.
  • In short, they were excluded from competing from the General Category positions even though they have scored more, simply because they were OBC.
  • This, in effect, shows that some state governments are trying to use the open category seats as a quota for general category candidates or in other words, for upper castes.
    • Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh excluded reserved category women for consideration in the general category.
    • Rajasthan and Gujarat, amongst others, included them.

What is the present SC verdict?

  • The Supreme Court has ruled against the UP government, clarifying the relationship between horizontal and vertical reservations.
  • It reiterated the principle that groups eligible for horizontal reservation cannot be excluded from the open category seats just because they are from other vertical reservation categories.
  • E.g. women from all categories (vertical) are eligible to be considered for the open category
  • The open category seats are not meant to be a quota for the non-reserved categories.
  • Merit - The Court has often, very unhelpfully, contrasted merit with reservation.
  • In popular parlance too, merit is seen to be a deviation from reservation.
  • But this has always been a mistaken view of the relationship between merit and reservation.
  • In principle, reservation is an instrument for identifying merit in individuals from historically marginalised communities.
  • In the present case, the UP government was ironically using the General Category to exclude meritorious candidates.
  • By ruling this out, the court has rightfully upheld merit and reservation.
  • The Court clarified on the fairness in the application of the selection criteria (merit) within the overall framework of reservation.


Source: The Indian Express, Hindustan Times

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