Indra Sawhney vs Union of India – The Mandal Case

Indra Sawhney vs Union of India[1] – The Mandal Case

Facts of the case
  • On January 01, 1979, the Janata Party Government headed by the Prime Minister Shri Morarji Desai appointed the second Backward Classes Commission under Article 340 of India Constitution under Chairmanship of Shri Bindheshwari Prasad Mandal who was former Chief Minister of Bihar from Indian National Congress. This commission is also known as Mandal Commission which was formed to investigate the socially and economically backward classes within the territory of India.
  • The commission submitted its final report on December 1980 and identified 3743 castes as socially and educationally backwards and recommended 27 per cent reservation on Government job to them.
  • Due to some political dilemma at the centre however, the report of the commission did not implement and was pending until 1990.
  • When Janata Party again came in power and V P Singh became the Prime Minister of India, he passed an O.M. (Office Memoranda) on August 13, 1990, and reserve 27 per cent of seats for backward classes.
  • This cause-effect in turmoil and violent throughout India. From various places, the anti-reservation movement shook the nation for three months and results in a huge loss of persons & property.
  • In 1991, the Janata Party government collapsed due to defections and Congress Party again came in power at the Centre and was headed by Shri P. V. Narsimha Rao.
  • On September 25, 1991, P.V. Narsimha Rao issued another Office Memoranda with two major changes in the Office Memoranda, which was issued by Janata Dal Government in 1990.

– Reserved another 10 per cent for Economic Backward Sections (EWS) of higher caste other than Socially and Educationally Backward Classes.

– And introduced the economic criteria for granting reservation by giving preference to the poorer section of Socially and Educationally Backward Classes in the 27 per cent quota

To review the legal positions relating to reservation, five judges bench referred the matter to the special Constitution bench of nine judges.

  • Whether the classification shall be based on the caste or economic basis?
  • Whether Article 16 (4) is the exception of article 16 (1)?
  • Whether under Article 16 (4) backward classes are similar to Socially and Educationally Backward Classes in Article 15 (4)?
  • Whether “any provision” under Article 16(4) for reservation “by the state” necessarily has to be by the law made by the legislatures of the state or by the law made by parliament? Or could such provisions be made by executive order?
  • Whether the classification between backward class into a backwards or more backwards class is valid or not?

The 9 Judges Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court by 6:3 majorities, held that Office Memoranda of both notified date is valid but struck down 10% reservation EBC among higher classes.


The Court examined the scope and extent Article 16(4) in detail and gave the following judgment:-

  1. Backward class of citizen in Article 16(4) can be identified on the basis of the caste system & not only on economic basis.
  2. Article 16(4) is not an exception of Article 16(1). It is an instance of the classification. Reservation can be made under Article 16(1).
  3. Backward classes mentioned in Article 16(4) are not similar to socially & educationally backward classes that are stated under Article 15(4).
  4. Creamy layer must be excluded from the backward classes.
  5. Article 16(4) permits the classification of backward classes into backward & more backward classes.
  6. A backward class of citizens cannot be identified only & exclusively with reference to economic criteria.
  7. Reservation shall not exceed 50%.
  8. Reservation can be made by the ‘EXECUTIVE ORDER’.
  9. No reservation in promotion.
  10. There shall be a Permanent Statutory body to examine complaints of over–inclusion and under – inclusion.
  11. The majority held that there is no need to express any opinion on the correctness or adequacy of the exercise done by the MANDAL COMMISSION.
  12. Disputes regarding new criteria can be raised only in the Supreme Court.
Position after Mandal’s Case

The decision of the Mandal Commission case has laid down a judicious solution to the reservation problem. But as we all know how politicians are greedy towards the vote banks and try to lure the public of different classes for votes. They still are trying to dilute the effect of the Mandal Commission’s case judgment. The Hon’ble Court has laid down that there shall be no reservation in promotion in government jobs but in 77th Constitutional Amendment Act, 1995 they bypassed the judgment of the Court and has added new Clause (4-A) in Article 16 of the Indian Constitution which says “Nothing in this article shall prevent the State from making any provision for reservation in matters of promotion, with consequential seniority, to any class or classes of posts in the services under the State in favour of Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes which in the opinion of State are not adequately represented in the services under the State.

This amendment nullifies the effect of the Mandal case decision of the Hon’ble Supreme Court. The evil reservation in promotion was abolished by the Supreme Court of India as it creates disappointment among the employees of the same category who were bypassed by their colleagues having less merit. In present, it covers only the SC-STs but there is also a demand for such reservation in promotion for OBCs.

[1] AIR 1993 SC 477.

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