A single-judge bench of Justice Ujjal Bhuyan of the Gauhati High Court recently ruled that Assam government employees from the Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs) would no longer be promoted just because they belonged to these reserved categories. The judgement was passed in connection with a writ petition (No. 2680 of 2015) filed by Equality Forum, Assam challenging reservation in promotion for SC and ST candidates in government services of the State. Equality Forum had been constituted by a section of general category State government employees with “an objective to ensure equal opportunity to all deserving government servants.” Justice Bhuyan ruled that promotions should rather be done cadre-wise maintaining overall efficiency in the administration. The order was passed in consonce with a Supreme Court order in M. garaj vs. Union of India. In 2006, the Supreme Court had ruled that a State was not bound to make reservations for SCs and STs in matters of promotion, but if it wished to exercise its discretion and make such a provision, the State had to collect the quantifiable data regarding (a) backwardness of the class, (b) idequacy of its representation in public services and (c) overall efficiency in administration. It will be recalled that a five-judge Constitution bench of the Supreme Court had interpreted provisions of Article 16 of the Constitution relating to grant of reservation to mean that quota right is not automatic.
Justice Bhuyan’s ruling will be hailed as a landmark judgement in an age when the principle of reservations (envisaged by the founding fathers of our Constitution for a period of 10 years) has been turned into a permanent political tool (through amendments to the Constitution) in order to reject merit at all levels and to turn ‘backwardness’ into the most desirable virtue for persol advancement. We cannot find a parallel for such perverse means of gaining political advantage in any other democracy of the world.