New Delhi: The Supreme Court has quashed a January 2000 order of the erstwhile state of Andhra Pradesh that provided 100 per cent reservation to Scheduled Tribe (ST) candidates for the post of teachers in schools in the scheduled areas.
The five-judge bench comprising Justices Arun Mishra, Indira Banerjee, Vineet Saran, M.R. Shah and Aniruddha Bose ruled that the Governor did not have the power to provide 100 per cent reservation.
The Governor of then undivided Andhra Pradesh had cited Schedule V of the Constitution, which provides for administration of Scheduled Areas in states other than Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram, to pass the government order.
The governments of both Andhra Pradesh and Telangana were fighting off the legal challenge to the order.
In its ruling Wednesday, the court held 100 per cent reservation unconstitutional as it was “discriminatory” against not just ‘open’ category candidates, but also against Scheduled Castes and Other Backward Classes.
Asserting that the state government’s “action defies logic” and that “merit cannot be denied in toto by providing reservations”, the court concluded that reservation in the case violated Articles 14 (equality before law), 15(1) (discrimination against citizens) and 16 (equal opportunity) of the Constitution.
“There was no rhyme or reason with the State Government to resort to 100% reservation,” the court said.
Schedule V does not allow Governor to make new laws
Paragraph 5(1) of Schedule V empowers the Governor to issue a notification directing that any central or state law may not apply to a scheduled area or shall apply to the area with modifications and exemptions.
The then Andhra Pradesh Governor had cited this provision. However, the Supreme Court noted that the order did not mention the AP Regulation of Reservation and Appointment to Public Services Act 1997, which deals with reservation in public services in the State. The laws that it did cite did not deal with reservation.
The government order had also cited Andhra Pradesh State and Subordinate Service Rules 1996, which provides for 6 per cent reservation for Scheduled Tribes in the State. But the bench ruled that Para 5(1) of Schedule V does not allow modification of Rules.
The court therefore held that creation of 100 per cent reservation through the government order was akin to making a new law and Schedule V only allows the Governor to not apply or apply a law to a scheduled area with modifications. It does not allow the Governor to make a new law altogether, it ruled.
Recurring ‘illegal exercise’
The Supreme Court also noted that this wasn’t the first time that the Andhra Pradesh government had issued such an order.
In November 1986, the then Governor of Andhra Pradesh had also issued an order under the same Schedule of the Constitution, directing that the posts of teachers in educational institutions in scheduled tribe areas be reserved for Scheduled Tribes only. This was quashed by the Andhra Pradesh Administrative Tribunal in 1989. A challenge to the tribunal’s order in the high court was later withdrawn by the government.
However, in January 2000, the state government issued another order reserving 100 per cent teacher posts in schools in scheduled areas, for ST candidates. Out of these, about 33 per cent seats were reserved for women.
The government order said the reservation was “to promote educational development of Tribals, to solve the phenomenal absenteeism of Teachers in the Schools situated in Scheduled Areas and with a view to protect the interests of local tribals”.
This order was set aside by the Andhra Pradesh Administrative Tribunal, but later upheld by the Andhra Pradesh High Court.
The Supreme Court was now hearing appeals against this order.
The five-judge bench took note of the fact that the state government issued the 100 per cent reservation order despite its earlier order having been set aside. It then validated the apprehension of the petitioners that the state government “may again by way of misadventure, resort to similar illegal exercise as was done earlier”.
Therefore, the court agreed to not quash the appointments to the posts made since 1986 on the condition that the states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana would not attempt to bring in a similar quota in the future.
The court also imposed Rs 5 lakh on Telangana and Andhra Pradesh governments as cost of appeal.
100% reservation unconstitutional
The Supreme Court ruled that the Governor’s powers under para 5 of Schedule V are subject to the fundamental rights guaranteed under Part III of the Constitution.
It then relied on several precedents, including the judgment in Indra Sawhney v. Union of India (1992), which capped reservations at 50 per cent, except in extraordinary cases.
It observed that in this case, “there were no such extraordinary circumstances to provide a 100 percent reservation in Scheduled Areas”.
The court also took note of a Presidential Order issued in 1975 under Article 371-D (Special provisions for Andhra Pradesh) of the Constitution, which said employment to people in the state were limited to only their districts.
The 2000 government order violated this by not allowing general category, scheduled castes and other backward classes candidates apply for these posts in their districts under the scheduled areas.
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