Reservation in India

The system of reservation in India such as reserving access to seats in the various legislatures, to government jobs, and to enrollment in higher educational institutions. The reservation nourishes the historically disadvantaged castes and tribes, listed as Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes by the Government of India, also those designated as Other Backwards Classes (OBCs) and also the economically backward general. The reservation is undertaken to address the historic oppression, inequality, and discrimination faced by those communities and to give these communities a place. It is intended to realise the promise of equality enshrined in the Constitution.

The Constitution prohibits untouchability and obligates the state to make special provision for the betterment of the SCs and STs. Over the years, the categories for affirmative action, also known as positive discrimination, have been expanded beyond those to the OBCs.

Reservation is governed by the Constitution, statutory laws and local rules and regulations. The SCs, STs and OBCs, and in some states Backward Classes among Muslims under a category called BC(M), are the primary beneficiaries of the reservation policies. There have been protests from groups outside the system who feel that it is inequitable.

Historical Background

The primary objective of the reservation system in India is to enhance the social and educational status of underprivileged communities and people thus improve their lives.[1].

Before independence

Quota systems favouring certain castes and other communities existed before independence in several areas of British India. Demands for various forms of positive discrimination had been made, for example, in 1882 and 1891.[2] Shahu, the Maharaja of the princely state of Kolhapur, introduced reservation in favour of non-Brahmin and backward classes, much of which came into force in 1902. He provided free education to everyone and opened several hostels to make it easier for them to receive it. He also tried to ensure that people thus educated were suitably employed, and he appealed both for a class-free India and the abolition of untouchability. His 1902 measures created 50 percent reservation for backward communities. On 16 September 1921, the first Justice Party (India) government passed the first Communal Government Order (G. O. # 613), thereby becoming the first elected body in the Indian legislative history to legislate reservations, which have since become standard across the country.

The British Raj introduced elements of reservation in the Government of India Act of 1909 and there were many other measures put in place prior to independence.[2] A significant one emerged from the Round Table Conference of June 1932, when the Prime Minister of Britain, Ramsay MacDonald, proposed the Communal Award, according to which separate representation was to be provided for Muslims, Sikhs, Indian Christians, Anglo-Indians, and Europeans. The depressed classes, roughly corresponding to the STs and SCs, were assigned a number of seats to be filled by election from constituencies in which only they could vote, although they could also vote in other seats. The proposal was controversial: Mahatma Gandhi fasted in protest against it but many among the depressed classes, including their leader, B. R. Ambedkar, favoured it. After negotiations, Gandhi reached an agreement with Ambedkar to have a single Hindu electorate, with Dalits having seats reserved within it. Electorates for other religions, such as Islam and Sikhism, remained separate. This became known as the Poona Pact.[3]

After independence

After the independence of India in 1947 there were some major initiatives in favour of the STs, SCs and after the 1980s in favour of OBCs.(Other Backward Castes)and in 2019 for poor general category . The country's affirmative action programme was launched in 1950 and is the oldest such programme in the world.[4]

A common form of caste discrimination in India was the practice of untouchability. SCs were the primary targets of the practice, which was outlawed by the new Constitution of India.[5]

In 1954, the Ministry of Education suggested that 20 percent of places should be reserved for the SCs and STs in educational institutions with a provision to relax minimum qualifying marks for admission by 5 percent wherever required. In 1982, it was specified that 15 percent and 7.5 percent of vacancies in public sector and government-aided educational institutes should be reserved for the SC and ST candidates, respectively.[6]

A significant change began in 1979 when the Mandal Commission was established to assess the situation of the socially and educationally backward classes.[7] The commission did not have exact population figures for the OBCs and so used data from the 1931 census, thus estimating the group's population at 52 per cent.[8] In 1980 the commission's report recommended that a reserved quota for OBCs of 27 per cent should apply in respect of services and public sector bodies operated by the Union Government. It called for a similar change to admissions to institutes of higher education, except where states already had more generous requirements.[7] It was not until the 1990s that the recommendations were implemented in Union Government jobs.[9] In 2019 the government announces the 10% reservation in educational institutions and government jobs for economically weaker section of general category.

The Constitution of India states in article 15(4): "Nothing in [article 15] or in clause (2) of article 29 shall prevent the State from making any special provision for the advancement of any socially, and educationally backward classes of citizens of or for the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes."[10] Article 46 of the Constitution states that "The State shall promote with special care the educational and economic interests of the weaker sections of the people, and, in particular, of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes, and shall protect them from social injustice and all forms of exploitation."[11]

The Supreme Court of India ruled in 1992 that reservations could not exceed 50 percent, anything above which it judged would violate equal access as guaranteed by the Constitution. It thus put a cap on reservations.[12] However, the recent amendment of the constitution exceeds 50% and also there are state laws that exceed this 50 percent limit and these are under litigation in the Supreme Court. For example, in the State of Tamil Nadu, the caste-based reservation stands at 69 percent and applies to about 87 percent of the population.reservation is not just for SC,ST and OBC reservation is also for women's and transgender so they can get equal opportunity.

Reservation schemes

In employment

A fixed percentage of India's government and public sector jobs are made exclusive for categories of people largely based on their caste or tribe.

The 1993 Supreme Court ruling in the Indra Sawhney case said that reservations in job promotions are "unconstitutional" but allowed its continuation for five years.[13][12] In 1995, the 77th amendment to the Constitution was made to amend Article 16 before the five-year period expired to continue with reservations for SC/STs in promotions.[14] It was further modified through the 85th amendment to give the benefit of consequential seniority to SC/ST candidates promoted by reservation.[15]

The 81st amendment was made to the Constitution to permit the government to treat the backlog of reserved vacancies as a separate and distinct group, to which the ceiling of 50 per cent did not apply.[16] The 82nd amendment inserted a provision in Article 335 to enable states to give concessions to SC/ST candidates in promotion.[17]

The validity of all the above four amendments was challenged in the Supreme Court through various petitions clubbed together in M. Nagaraj & Others Vs. Union of India & Others, mainly on the ground that these altered the Basic Structure of the Constitution. In 2006, the Supreme Court upheld the amendments but stipulated that the concerned state will have to show, in each case, the existence of "compelling reasons" - which include "backwardness", "inadequacy of representation" and overall "administrative efficiency - before making provisions for reservation. The court further held that these provisions are merely enabling provisions. If a state government wishes to make provisions for reservation to SC/STs in the promotion, the state has to collect quantifiable data showing backwardness of the class and inadequacy of representation of that class.[18]

In 2007, the Government of Uttar Pradesh introduced reservation in job promotions. However, citing the Supreme Court decision, the policy was ruled to be unconstitutional by the Allahabad High Court in 2011.[19] The decision was challenged in the Supreme Court, which upheld it in 2012 by rejecting the government's argument because it failed to furnish sufficient valid data to justify the move to promote employees on a caste basis.[20]

In education

In India scholarships or student aid is available for—SCs, STs, BCs, OBCs, women, Muslims, and other minorities. Only about 0.7% of scholarships or student aid in India is based on merit, given the grossly inadequate representation of above-mentioned categories in employment and education due to historic, societal and cultural reasons.[21]

New rules implementation of UPA Government do not provide scholarship scheme and reservation quota of students and employees of colleges under central University and State University approved by the UGC.

Background in India

In central-government funded higher education institutions, 22.5% of available seats are reserved for Scheduled Caste (SC) and Scheduled Tribe (ST) students (7.5% for STs, 15% for SCs).[22] This reservation percentage has been raised to 49.5%[22] by including an additional 27% reservation for OBCs. This ratio is followed even in Parliament and all elections where a few constituencies are earmarked for those from certain communities (which will next rotate in 2026 per the Delimitation Commission).

The exact percentages vary from state to state:

  • In Haryana, the reservation is 20% for SCs, 16% for backward class A, 11% for backward class B, 10% special backward class, 10% economically backward in open caste and 3% for physically handicapped (70% total), based on local demographics.
  • In Tamil Nadu, the reservation is 18% for SCs, 1% for STs, 30% BC and 20%MBC (69% total) based on local demographics
  • In Jharkhand, the reservation is 11% for SCs, 27% for STs and 22% OBC (60% total) based on local demographics.
  • In Maharashtra, the reservation is 16% for SEBCs, 19% OBCs, 13% for SCs and 7% for STs,2% SBC, Nomadic Tribes(A,B,C,D) NT-A(vimukta jati)-3% , NT-B -2.5%, NT-C (Dhangar)-3.5% ,NT-D (vanjari)-2% (68% total) based on local demographics
  • In Karnataka, the reservation is 15% for SCs and 3% for STs, 32% OBC (50% total) based on local demographics
  • In Kerala, the reservation is 8% for SCs and 2% for STs, 40% OBC (50% total) based on local demographics
  • In Uttar Pradesh, the reservation is 21% for SCs and 2% for STs, 27% OBC (50% total) based on local demographics
  • In Bihar, the reservation is 15% for SCs and 1% for STs, 34% OBC (50% total) based on local demographics
  • In Madhya Pradesh, the reservation is 16% for SCs and 20% for STs, 27% OBC (63% total) based on local demographics
  • In Rajasthan, the reservation is 16% for SCs and 12% for STs, 26% OBC (54% total) based on local demographics
  • In Northeast India, especially in Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Nagaland and Mizoram, reservation for ST in State Govt. jobs is 80% with only 20% unreserved. In the Central Universities of NEHU(shillong) and Rajiv Gandhi University, 60% of seats are reserved for ST students.
  • In Andhra Pradesh, 27% of educational institutes and government jobs are reserved for OBCs, 33.33% for women, 15% for SCs, 6% for STs.[23][24]
  • In West Bengal, 35% of educational institute seats and government jobs are reserved for SC, ST, and OBC (22% SC, 6% ST, 7% for[25] OBC A & B[26]). In West Bengal there is no reservation on religious basis but some economically and educationally backward Muslim castes (basis surnames pertaining to different profession e.g. cobbler, weaver etc.) have been included along with their Hindu in OBC list namely OBC A and OBC B, in both lists caste from both communities are there. But in higher educational institutes, till now there is no reservation for the OBC community but there is reservation in regard to admission in primary, secondary and higher secondary studies.[25][26]


The Women's Reservation Bill was passed by the Rajya Sabha on 9 March 2010 by a majority vote of 186 members in favour and 1 against. As of March 2013, the Lok Sabha has not voted on the bill. Critics say gender cannot be held as a basis for reservation alone other factors should also be considered e.g. economic, social conditions of woman candidate especially when applying reservation for educated women.

In Gujarat, 33% of posts are reserved for females in all government departments and services, such as police, health, education and general administration.[27][28]


There is no reservation granted on the basis of religion in the Central educational institutions at the national level, although reservation has been extended to religious minorities in some states. The Tamil Nadu government has allotted 3.5% of seats each to Muslims and Christians, thereby altering the OBC reservation to 23% from 30% (since it excludes persons belonging to Other Backward Castes who are either Muslims or Christians).[29]

The Government of Andhra Pradesh introduced a law enabling 4 percent reservations for Muslims in 2004. This law was upheld by the Supreme Court in an interim order in 2010 but it constituted a Constitution bench to look further into the issue.[30][31] The referral was to examine the constitutional validity of quotas based on religion.[32] Kerala Public Service Commission has a quota of 6% for Muslims. Religious minority (Muslim or Christian) educational institutes also have 50% reservation for Muslim or Christian religions. The Central government has listed a number of Muslim communities as backward Muslims, making them eligible for reservation.


The Union Government on 22 December 2011 announced the establishment of a sub-quota of 4.5% for religious minorities within the existing 27% reservation for Other Backward Classes. The reasoning given was that Muslim communities that have been granted OBC status are unable to compete with Hindu OBC communities.[33] It was alleged that the decision was announced as the Election Commission announced Assembly elections in five states on 24 December 2011. The government would not have been able to announce this due to the model code of conduct. On 12 January 2012, the Election Commission stayed implementation of this decision for violation of the model code of conduct.[34] Later, Justice Sachar, head of the Sachar Committee that was commissioned to prepare a report on the latest social, economic and educational condition of the Muslim community of India, criticised the government decision, saying "Such promises will not help the backward section of minorities. It is like befooling them. These people are making tall claims just to win elections". He suggested that instead of promising to give reservations, the government should focus on basic issues of improving administration and governance.[35]

On 28 May 2012, the Andhra Pradesh High Court quashed the sub-quota. The court said that the sub-quota has been carved out only on religious lines and not on any other intelligible basis. The court criticised the decision: "In fact, we must express our anguish at the rather casual manner in which the entire issue has been taken up by the central government."[36]

Economic status

The Union Government tabled the Constitution (One Hundred And Twenty-Fourth Amendment) Bill, 2019 which provided 10% additional quota for the economically weaker sections amongst the erstwhile unreserved category students. The definition of 'economically weaker sections' will be defined by the State from time to time.[37] The constitutional amendment has laid down that they will be restricted to people with household income less than 8 Lakh per annum, or those who own agricultural land below five acres. Business Today has commented that these criteria cover almost 100 percent of the population.[38] Several petitions have been filed before the Supreme Court of India challenging the legality of this amendment.[39]


People in the following categories are not entitled to take advantage of the reservation system for OBCs:

Institutions of excellence, research institutions, institutions of national and strategic importance do not have reservations for higher education.[lower-alpha 6]

On 27 October 2015, the Supreme Court directed the state and the Central governments to end the regional quota and to ensure that super-specialty medical courses are kept "unreserved, open and free" from any domicile status after the court had allowed petitions files by some MBBS doctors.[44]

Creamy layer

The term creamy layer was first coined in 1975 in the State of Kerala vs N. M. Thomas case when a judge said that the "benefits of the reservation shall be snatched away by the top creamy layer of the backward class, thus leaving the weakest among the weak and leaving the fortunate layers to consume the whole cake".[45][46] The 1992 Indra Sawhney vs Union of India judgement laid down the limits of the state's powers: it upheld the ceiling of 50 percent quotas, emphasised the concept of "social backwardness", and prescribed 11 indicators to ascertain backwardness. The judgement also established the concept of qualitative exclusion, such as "creamy layer".[47][48][49] The creamy layer applies only to OBCs. The creamy layer criteria were introduced at Rs 1 lakh in 1993 and revised to Rs 2.5 lakh in 2004, Rs 4.5 lakh in 2008 and Rs 6 lakh in 2013, but now the ceiling has been raised to ₹8 lakh (in September 2017).[50] In October 2015, the National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC) proposed that a person belonging to OBC with an annual family income of up to Rs 15 lakh should be considered as minimum ceiling for OBC.[51] The NCBC also recommended sub-division of OBCs into "backward", "more backward" and "extremely backward" groups and to divide the 27 per cent quota amongst them in proportion to their population, to ensure that stronger OBCs do not corner the quota benefits.[52][53] However, creamy layer exclusion is only in OBC quota, but not in SC/ST quotas.[54]

Reservation in states


Maharashtra earlier had 50% reservation in educational institutions and government jobs. In June 2019, BOMBAY HIGH COURT allowed 12% and 13% reservation respectively education and jobs for Maratha caste (SEBC) .[55] After the Union Cabinet approved the 10% reservation for the Economically Weaker Section (EWS),[56] the reservation has been estimated to increase up to 75% making Maharashtra the state with the highest percentage of reservation in the country.

Reservation in Maharashtra

  • Scheduled Castes (SC) (13%)
  • Scheduled Tribes (ST) (7%)
  • Other Backward Classes (OBC) (19%)
  • Special Backward Classes (SBC) (2%)
  • Socially and economically backward class(SEBC) (13%)
  • Economically Weaker Section (EWS) (10%)
  • Nomadic Tribes - A (Vimukta jati) (3%)
  • Nomadic Tribes - B (Banjara) (2.5%)
  • Nomadic Tribes - C (Dhangar) (3.5%)
  • Nomadic Tribes - D (Vanjari) (2%)

Andhra Pradesh

Andhra Pradesh state percentage of reservation is =50% approx. 66.66% reservations including women are applicable in Andhra Pradesh in Education and Government jobs.

  • Scheduled Castes – 15%
  • Scheduled Tribes – 6%
  • Backward Classes (A, B, C, D) – 27%
  • Physically Handicapped (Blind, Deaf & Dumb and OPH) – 3% (1 per cent each)
  • Ex-servicemen (APMS only) – 1% (0.5% in general)
  • Women - 33.33% (in all categories, means 16.66% in general category)

Total % of reservations 46%< 50% based on caste It is quite compliant with the supreme court word of keeping caste-based reservations under 50% cap

Addition of disabled, ex-serviceman, women in general category 16.66% makes it 66.66%

The Andhra Pradesh Govt says economically backward children are admitted into private schools under Right To Education (RTE) Act. However, caste-based reservations also apply to private schools.[57]

The reservation for women cuts across all classes and communities and is a horizontal and not vertical reservation. As such the total % of reservations has to be counted at 50% only; and that is in consonance with the Supreme Court dicta that reservations, in general, ought not to exceed 50% of the posts/seats if the right to equal opportunity to all without discrimination guaranteed under Article 16 is to be vindicated and respected.

See also


  1. Includded among the high office holders are the President of India, the Vice-President of India, Judges of the Supreme Court of India, the High Courts chairman, the members of Union Public Service Commission, members of the State Public Service Commission, Chief Election Commissioner, Comptroller Auditor-General of India or any person holding positions of a constitutional nature.[40]
  2. Included among this category are Class I or Class II officers, unless dead or incapacitated.[41] The criteria used for Group A and B are the same as the employees of the Public sector.[40]
  3. High ranks include the rank of colonel and above in the army or in equivalent posts in the Navy, the Air Force, and the Paramilitary Force. But that will hold true provided that-
    1. "the wife of an armed forces officer is herself in the armed forces (i.e., the category under consideration) the rule of exclusion will apply only when she herself has reached the rank of Colonel."
    2. "the service ranks below Colonel of husband and wife shall not be clubbed together"
    3. "if the wife of an officer in the armed forces is in civil employment, this will not be taken into account for applying the rule of exclusion unless she falls in the service category under item No.II in which case the criteria and conditions"[40]
  4. If a person has a high paying job such as physician, lawyer, chartered accountant, income tax consultant, financial or management consultant, dental surgeon, engineer, architect, computer specialist, film artist or other film professional, author, playwright, sports person, sports professional, media professional or any other vocations of like status. If the husband holds one of the above jobs and the wife doesn't then the husband's income will be taken into consideration and if the wife holds one of the above jobs then the wife's income will be taken into consideration. The income of the family as a whole will be taken into account because the whole point of the reservation system is to raise the social status of the people that belong to the SC's, ST's and OBCs and if a family's income is high already it is considered that it raises their social status as well.[40]
  5. Included in this category are those who have irrigated land area which is equal to or more than 85% of the statutory ceiling area will be excluded from reservation. They would only be under reservation if the land is exclusively unirrigated. Those with vacant buildings can use them for residential, industrial or commercial purposes, hence they are not covered under reservations.[40]
  6. Such institutions include the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing, Homi Bhabha National Institute and its ten constituent units, the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (Mumbai), the North Eastern Indira Gandhi Regional Institute of Health and Medical Sciences (Shillong), Physical Research Laboratory (Ahmedabad), the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (Thiruvananthapuram) and the Indian Institute of Remote Sensing (Dehradun).[42][43]



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  2. Laskar, Mehbubul Hassan. "Rethinking Reservation in Higher Education in India" (PDF). ILI Law Review. pp. 29–30. Archived from the original (PDF) on 25 April 2012.
  3. Menon, V. P. (1957). Transfer of Power in India (Reprinted ed.). Orient Blackswan. pp. 49–50. ISBN 978-81-250-0884-2.
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  5. Passin, Herbert (October 1955). "Untouchability in the Far East". Monumenta Nipponica. 11 (3): 247–267. doi:10.2307/2382914. JSTOR 2382914.
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  12. "Indra Sawhney Etc. vs Union of India And Others, Etc. on 16 November, 1992". Retrieved 22 August 2012. (4) Reservation being an extreme form of protective measure or affirmative action it should be confined to minority of seats. Even though the Constitution does not lay down any specific bar but the constitutional philosophy being against proportional equality the principle of balancing equality ordains reservation, of any manner, not to exceed 50%." , "Reservation in promotion is constitutionally impermissible as once the advantaged and disadvantaged are made equal and are brought in one class or group then any further benefit extended for promotion on the inequality existing prior to being brought in the group would be treating equals unequally. It would not be eradicating the effects of past discrimination but perpetuating it.
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  25. ":: BCW Department-Govt of West Bengal, Reservation ::". Retrieved 2 February 2015.
  26. ":: Backward Classes Welfare Department, Government of West Bengal ::". Retrieved 2 February 2015.
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  30. PTI. "Interim relief to AP on Muslim reservation". The Hindu. Retrieved 14 June 2015.
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  50. "Raise 'creamy layer' to Rs 10.5 lakh: OBC panel".
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