Reservation in India(1): Background



  • In a democracy,” equality ” if one of the core principles that is sin qua non.
  • However, due to various natural or even anthropogenic reasons, the scenario of an egalitarian society has become an unachievable dream.
  • But, as a kind of inherent duty the state has to take a few measures to establish what can be called as an egalitarian society.

Affirmative action:

According to R.H Tawney, a socio-political philosopher, equality is bridging the gap between the peak and the valley.

  • In order to accomplish this, the state has to take steps which can be termed as “affirmative action”.
  • Affirmative action means positive discrimination, that is, an action so taken in favor of the lower sections to uplift them and establish equality.


It is an affirmative action for the underprivileged sections of the society so that a level-playing field could be created in the society

History of reservation in India:

  • Pre-independence:
    • The concept of reservation can be traced back to the British era and their policy of “divide and rule”.
    • In 1909, Minto-Morley reforms gave separate electorates to Muslims, that is, only Muslims and can fight and vote on a fixed number of seats decided by the British.
    • This was the  nail in coffin of the “divide and rule” policy.
    • In 1919 constitutional reforms, the ambit of separate electorates increased further.
    • In 1932, the system of separate electorates was considered for the Dalits. Through what was called the Communal Award of Ramsay McDonald, the Britishers made an effort to formalize this concept.
    • Dr. B.R Ambedkar supported this concept.
    • However, due to Gandhi Ji’s protest in the form of fast unto death in Yervada Jail, this demand of separate electorates by Ambedkar was compromised to the system of reservation for the suppressed classes like Dalits. This pact between Gandhi and Ambedkar was known as the Poona pact.
    • This marked the beginning of reservation in the Indian polity.
  • Post-independence:
    • The provisions of reservation for the Scheduled Castes(SCs) and Scheduled Tribes(STs) were innate in the Constitution of India.
    • Later, the demand of reservation for the Other Backward Classes was raised.
    • During the tenure of Janata party in the year 1979, a commission under the Chairmanship of B.P Mandal was constituted, popularly known as the Mandal Commission
    • Popularly known as the Mandal commission, it submitted its report , upholding 27% reservation for other socially and educationally backward classes in public services, public sector bodies ,and educational institutions.
    • This report was promulgated in the year 1989 by the V.P Singh government.
    • The percentage of reserved seats had now been raised to 49.5 (22.5% SCs and STs+ 27% OBCs).


Constitutional provisions that call for such affirmative actions:

  • In the Preamble of our constitution, Equality is mentioned as one of the key principles.
  • Article 14-18 upholds the Right to Equality as a fundamental right(Part 3) of all the Indian citizens.
  • Here, Article 16(4) gives the state the powers and also the obligation to make special provisions for the upliftment of socially and educationally backward classes of the citizens or of the scheduled castes and tribes.
  • Article 46(Part 4- Directive Principles of State Policy) states that the state shall promote with special care the educational and economic interests of the weaker sections of the people , particularly, the SCs and the STs.

Supreme court on reservation:

The Supreme court after the promulgation of the Mandal Commission gave a ruling :

  • setting a cap on the reservation up to 50%.
  • excluding a few OBC sections through the concept of the Creamy layer: Creamy layer broadly included those families/sections which are well off and do not need the benefits of reservation.


This is an article series. The next article will cover the need of the provision of reservation.



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