Supreme Court’s view on creamy layer in reservation.

Today on 26.09.18, in the matter of Jarnail Singh and others versus Lachhmi Narain Gupta and others the Constitution Bench pronounced that the state need not collect quantifiable data of backwardness to give reservations in promotions for SC/STs.

Among other things, it was observed that:

The creamy layer principle is applied by Courts to exclude certain persons from reservation made from within that class on the touchstone of Articles 14 and 16(1) of the Constitution of India. (Para 4)

However, when it comes to the creamy layer principle, it is important to note that this principle sounds in Articles 14 and 16(1), as unequals within the same class are being treated equally with other members of that class. The whole object of reservation is to see that backward classes of citizens move forward so that they may march hand in hand with other citizens of India on an equal basis. This will not be possible if only the creamy layer within that class bag all the coveted jobs in the public sector and perpetuate themselves, leaving the rest of the class as backward as they always were. (Para 15)

The whole object of reservation is to see that backward classes of citizens move forward so that they may march hand in hand with other citizens of India on an equal basis. This will not be possible if only the creamy layer within that class bag all the coveted jobs in the public sector and perpetuate themselves, leaving the rest of the class as backward as they always were. This being the case, it is clear that when a Court applies the creamy layer principle to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, it does not in any manner tinker with the Presidential List under Articles 341 or 342 of the Constitution of India. The caste or group or sub-group named in the said List continues exactly as before. It is only those persons within that group or sub-group, who have come out of untouchability or backwardness by virtue of belonging to the creamy layer, who are excluded from the benefit of reservation. Even these persons who are contained within the group or sub-group in the Presidential Lists continue to be within those Lists. It is only when it comes to the application of the reservation principle under Articles 14 and 16 that the creamy layer within that sub-group is not given the benefit of such reservation. (Para 15)

Constitutional Courts, applying Articles 14 and 16 of the Constitution to exclude the creamy layer cannot be said to be thwarted in this exercise by the fact that persons stated to be within a particular group or sub- group in the Presidential List may be kept out by Parliament on application of the creamy layer principle. One of the most important principles that has been frequently applied in constitutional law is the doctrine of harmonious interpretation. When Articles 14 and 16 are harmoniously interpreted along with other Articles 341 and 342, it is clear that Parliament will have complete freedom to include or exclude persons from the Presidential Lists based on relevant factors. Similarly, Constitutional Courts, when applying the principle of reservation, will be well within their jurisdiction to exclude the creamy layer from such groups or sub-groups when applying the principles of equality under Articles 14 and 16 of the Constitution of India.  (Para 16)

-Tushar Kaushik

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