It was a clamorous day at Lok Sabha on Monday as opposition parties targeted the government over recent Supreme Court judgement which rules that states are not legally bound to provide reservation to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in government jobs. In its decision last week on Friday, the top court also stated that individuals do not have a fundamental right to claim reservation in promotions.
The ruling came against an Uttarakhand High Court order. The Supreme Court order irked the opposition parties who demanded discussion on the judgement in both Houses of the Parliament. While the Centre has denied any role in the matter, the opposition has called the Modi government opposed to reservation to backward sections.
Here's a look at what the Supreme Court order says, does the Constitution allow it, and who's saying what:
What did the Supreme Court say on reservation?
A Supreme Court bench of justices L Nageswara Rao and Hemant Gupta ruled that states are not bound to make reservations, nor is reservation in promotions a fundamental right. The top court said that it cannot order state governments to provide reservations.
"In view of the law laid down by this court, there is no doubt that the state government is not bound to make reservations. There is no fundamental right which inheres in an individual to claim reservation in promotions. No mandamus can be issued by the court directing the state government to provide reservations," the bench said in its order.
The state governments can grant reservation to scheduled castes and scheduled tribes at their own discretion, but will have to collect quantifiable data which shows their inadequate representation in public services. The Supreme Court has said that states can grant reservation to certain classes, but "there must be some material on the basis of which the opinion is formed".
The Supreme Court decision came against pleas regarding Uttarakhand government's September 5, 2012 decision to fill up all posts in public services in the state without providing reservations to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. The government's decision was challenged in the Uttarakhand High Court, which struck it down
What does the constitution say?
The Supreme Court referred to Article 16 and its clauses 4 and 4A while delivering its judgement in the matter. Article 16 in the Constitution of India refers to equality of opportunity in government jobs.
Article 16 (4) states: "Nothing in this article shall prevent the State from making any provision for the reservation of appointments or posts in favour of any backward class of citizens which, in the opinion of the State, is not adequately represented in the services under the State."
Article 16 (4A), which was introduced in 1995, states: "Nothing in this article shall prevent the State from making any provision for reservation in matters of promotion to any class or classes of posts in the services under the State in favour of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes which, in the opinion of the State, are not adequately represented in the services under the State."
To summarise, the Constitution of India grants state government the power to reserve vacancies for backward sections, and even grant reservation in matters of promotion for posts under it. This can be done if the state believes that the reserved categories are inadequately represented in public services under it.
What is Modi government's stand?
While the opposition is holding the Centre accountable for the Supreme Court order on reservation, the union government has said that it was not a party in this legal battle. Social Justice and Empowerment Minister Thawar Chand Gehlot told Lok Sabha that the Centre was also not asked to file an affidavit on the issue.
Gehlot also pointed out that the Supreme Court order refers to a Uttarakhand government notification from 2012, when Congress was in power in the state. The Social Justice Minister said that the Centre is studying the subject and will take an appropriate decision.
Meanwhile, Rajnath Singh, Defence Minister and Deputy Leader of House, said in Lok Sabha that the opposition is politicising a sensitive issue.
What is the opposition saying?
Following the Supreme Court order, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said that the BJP and RSS are trying to erase reservations. "The ideology of the RSS and the BJP is against reservation. The RSS and the BJP cannot stand the idea that Dalits, tribals and OBCs have reservations. They (the RSS and BJP) wake up every morning and this (reservation) irritates them. Except it is in our Constitution, and these rights are guaranteed by our Constitution," Gandhi said while talking to reporters outside the Parliament.
Former Finance Minister P Chidambaram said the BJP government cannot distance itself from the Supreme Court's decision not to make reservations compulsory. "The BJP government of Uttarakhand put forward the argument that was accepted by the Court. BJP must own up to the judgement and tell us if it will reject the declaration of law," Chidambaram said in a series of tweets.
If the BJP does not agree with the decision, let it say so and implement corrective measures, Chidambaram said.