In this article, we will discuss the basic elements of reservation in India in a simple and easy way and try to understand its various important aspects.

To say this is just a quota system, but the gradual development has made it so complex that the common man remains deprived of many aspects of it.

For the sake of understanding, this entire article has been divided into four main parts. This is the first part of it and in the other three parts we will look at the following aspects of it –

Constitutional basis of reservation and its various aspects[2/4]
Evolution of Reservation[3/4]
Roster – The Maths Behind Reservation[4/4]

Along with this, we will also talk on many other topics related to this, the link of which you will get while reading the articles. Since the entire reservation system revolves around Fundamental Rights (especially the Right to Equality), we suggest that you at least have a look at the Fundamental Rights for a better understanding.

Reservation in India
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| What is reservation?

Reservation is an affirmative action; For those caste, gender class or community who have not been able to join the main stream of the society due to any reason. 

The Constitution empowers the Central Government, State Government and Union Territories to determine the quota or reserved seats for certain classes or communities in admission, appointment or promotion and in Parliament and Legislature etc. 

If we look at Article 14 (right to equality), there are two terms in it, first, equality before law and second, equal protection of laws.

Equality before the lawaffirms that no one is above the law and that all are equal before the law. The drawback in this theory is that it gives equal value to the poor-rich, educated-uneducated, resourceless-resourceful etc. and discourages giving any privilege in favor of anyone.

But equal protection of the laws really refers to doing something in one’s favor to bring about equality. Because it is well known that the society in which we live is unequal, and to establish equality in that inequality, it is necessary that something special should be done in favor of the downtrodden, exploited, uneducated and backward class of the society.

The steps taken by the government to do something special in favor of these people are called affirmative action, and reservation is a part of this affirmative action.

🔹 Article 15, it clearly says that India will not discriminate against any of its citizens only on the basis of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of these. The word ‘only’ has been used here i.e. India can discriminate on any basis other than religion, race, caste, sex and place of birth. For example, suppose a person is physically disabled, then such person can be discriminated against on the basis of disability.

And obviously it is done, you can see that in hospitals, schools, colleges, etc., ramps are made for the differently abled. So such discrimination is called positive discrimination.

🔹 Article 15(3), it clearly says that the state can make special provisions in favor of women and children. Governments also do such things as giving maternity leave to women, running child nutrition programs etc.

[Articles 15(4), 15(5) and 15(6) are also related to affirmative action or reservation, but we will discuss this further]

🔹 Article 16, it says that there will be no discrimination of any kind in the employment or appointment under the state. But if one reads Article 16(2), it says that the state shall not discriminate against its citizens in employment or appointment on grounds only of religion, race, caste, ancestry, place of birth, sex and residence.

Here also the word ‘only’ is used, that is to say, employment or appointment can be discriminated on the basis of anything other than those seven things. Governments also do this, for example, persons with disabilities get reservation in employment or appointment.

🔹 Article 16 (4), It clearly states that the state may, if it so desires, make arrangements for reservation in posts or appointments falling within the state in favor of the backward class citizens, if the state feels that their representation is not adequate in the state services. So the meaning of saying is that this article is the reason for the reservation in jobs.

Apart from this there are Articles 16(4A), 16(4B), 16(5) and 16(6) which establish many other important aspects regarding reservation. We are going to understand all these paragraphs further.

Till now you must have understood that what is reservation and where it is mentioned in the constitution. Let us now know the answers to some important questions.

Q. Which people, classes or communities get reservation in india?

According to the original constitution, under Article 330 and 332, reservation was made for SC and ST in Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha. And also, under Articles 15 and 16, the backward classes (including women and children), a system like reservation was approved.

Today SC, ST, OBC and EWS community mainly get the benefit of reservation. (There is also a system of 10% reservation for Economically Backward Classes (EWS) from the year 2019.) The reservation that these people get is called vertical reservation . 

Apart from this, women, differently-abled and third gender also get the benefit of reservation. The reservation that these people get is called horizontal reservation

[Understand in detail – What is Vertical and Horizontal Reservation

Mainly reservation in India is available to four communities, Scheduled Castes (SC), Scheduled Tribes (ST), Other Backward Classes (OBC) and Economically Weaker Sections (EWS). 

The system of reservation for ST and SC was largely started after independence. Whereas reservation for OBCs is available after accepting the recommendations of Mandal Commission in 1992 and reservation for Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) since the 103rd Constitutional Amendment was passed in 2019. 

 Who is Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribe (ST)?
Articles 341 and 342 define who is a Scheduled Caste (SC) and a Scheduled Tribe (ST) respectively.

Articles 341 and 342 state that – (1) The President may, with respect to any State or Union territory, where that State is, after consultation with the Governor thereof, by public notification, those castes, races or tribes or part thereof or group thereof; for the purposes of this Constitution shall be deemed to be a Scheduled Caste (SC) and a Scheduled Tribe (ST) in relation to that State or Union Territory.

(2) Parliament reserves the right to, by law, include in the list of any caste, race or tribe or part thereof or group thereof, the Scheduled Castes specified in the notification issued under clause (1) can be excluded.
There is a commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. For more information about SC and ST follow the given link.

Read from here – National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC)
Read from here – National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST)
 Who is the Other Backward Classes (OBC)?
OBCs have basically not been a part of reservation. The Constitution used to support it, but the immediate official reason for this is the Mandal Commission; Which was established in 1979 by the Janata Party government of Morarji Desai.
And we can find the basis behind the formation of this commission in Article 340 which says – “A commission may be constituted by the President in the interest of socially and educationally backward classes.”

The Mandal Commission, taking the help of the 1931 census, identified those castes (except SC and ST) which were socially and educationally backward. These were 3743 in number and today they are expanded into about 5000 castes and sub-castes.

However, through the 102nd Constitutional Amendment, a definition has been given for OBCs (like the SCs and STs) under Article 342 ‘A’, which says – (1) The President, in relation to any State or Union Territory, where that state is; there may, after consultation with the Governor thereof, by public notification, specify socially and educationally backward classes or any part or group thereof as Other Backward Castes (OBC) in relation to that State or Union territory for the purposes of this Constitution.

(2) Parliament has the power to list, by law, socially and educationally backward classes or any part thereof or group thereof (specified as OBCs in a notification issued under clause 1). may be included in or excluded from it.
Like SC and ST, a commission has also been constituted for this, for more information about OBC must read this article.
Read from here – National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC)
 Who is the Economically Weaker Section?
The poor or Economically Weaker Sections of the general categories are included in this category. It was tried to provide reservation in 1991 by the government of PV Narasimha Rao, but at that time the Supreme Court did not support it. It has been established by the 103rd Constitutional Amendment of 2019 and is currently running.
Remember here that there is no separate commission for this.

Remember here that the commission for SC and ST was constituted under Article 338 and 338 ‘A‘. With the help of the 102nd Constitutional Amendment 2018, a new part named Article 338 ‘B’ was added to the Constitution, under which the National Commission for Backward Classes was constituted.

Q. Why is reservation given in India ?

It is a simple question that if the Constitution has given equal status to all, then what is the need of giving reservation? As the main reason for this is unequal society. We did not get this society in its egalitarian form, but we got the reins of an unequal society.

In such a situation, negative equality (which talks about equal law for all and no privileges of any kind) was not going to work. Because this would create a vicious circle, and the backward would remain backward and the forward would remain forward. Staying forward, there is no problem with this, but bringing backward in the mainstream is the main responsibility of a welfare state and also the demand of socialist democracy.

That is why in Article 14 you get a term “equal protection of laws“. Which is positive in itself and has a sense of giving. Reservation is also a system which has a sense of giving something. And have a sense of giving till they become a part of the mainstream of the society. (We have discussed about this above as well.)

Under this, a particular class or caste can also be given preference in an area and the same castes or classes can also be given a Quota (fixed seat) in that area. Usually what we call reservation is this Quota system. You will understand how it is.

Q. Why Scheduled Caste (SC) was given reservation in India?

Under the SC, those sections or castes of the society are identified which were considered at the lowest rung in the caste system. And the work which was considered the smallest in the society was considered assigned to him. Such as manual scavenging, laundry etc. That is why these castes suffered the most untouchability. In independent India, these people could be brought into the mainstream, that is why the SC category was given reservation. 

Q. Why Scheduled Tribes (ST) were given reservation in India?

Under ST, those castes of the society are identified who for some reason live in forests or mountains away from the main society and adopt the primitive culture. We usually also call it Aboriginal or Nomadic. So that they could mix in the mainstream society, that is why there was a need to give reservation to them too. 

Q. Why Other Backward Classes (OBC) get reservation in India?

Under OBC, a class is identified which has relatively not suffered untouchability and generally did not live far from the main society like tribal, yet for some reason they remained socially and educationally backward. It is called Other Backward Class or OBC only because, except SC and ST, these are people who are backward.

These people share half the population of the country’s population. That is why, following the recommendations of the Mandal Commission, the then government announced OBC reservation in 1990-91. [What this whole thing is, let’s understand it further.] 

Q. Why are reservations given to women, differently-abled and transgender etc.?

Reservation to these people or communities, generally because of their social status, or the narrow and conservative view of society towards them, and due to lack of proper status or respect in the society; However, remember that the reservation given to these people is of horizontal type. What this happens is explained further. 

Q. Why do Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) get reservation?

In 1991, the government of PV Narasimha Rao took the initiative of giving 10% separate reservation to the poor or economically weaker sections of the general categories. But at that time the Supreme Court (in Indira Sawhney case) Rejected the demand for reservation on economic grounds. In fact, the basic logic behind this reservation is that even among the upper castes, the condition of everyone is not good, there are people who are in poverty, misery or suppressed by their own people. 

In 2019, through the 103rd Constitutional Amendment, the BJP government announced to give 10 percent reservation to the economically backward classes, which is still going on. 

So overall till now we have understood those aspects in the context of reservation in India which is at the core of reservation. Now further we will explore the constitutional aspects of reservation in India and understand what is the constitutional or legal basis of reservation in Panchayat and Municipality, reservation in Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha, reservation in jobs, admission in colleges and universities etc.

Constitutional basis of reservation and its various aspects[2/4]
Evolution of Reservation[3/4]
Roster – The Maths Behind Reservation[4/4]


Q. What is the government’s policy on reservation for SC, ST and OBC?

In case of direct recruitment on All India basis, reservation is given for SC, ST and OBC in open competition at the rate of 15%, 7.5% and 27% respectively. In case of direct recruitment on All India basis other than open competition, the reservation for SC, ST and OBC is 16.66%, 7.5% and 25.84% respectively. In case of direct recruitment to Group C and D posts which generally attract candidates from a locality or region. The percentage of reservation for Scheduled Castes or Scheduled Tribes is usually fixed in proportion to the population of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in the respective States or Union Territories.

Q. What are the relaxations available for SC/ST?

The relaxations available for SC and ST in direct recruitment are as follows:-

a) Five years relaxation in upper age limit:

b) Exemption from payment of examination/application fee;

c) Where the interview is a part of the recruitment process, SC/ST candidates should be interviewed separately:

d) Qualification in respect of experience is relaxable in respect of SC/ ST candidates at the discretion of UPSC/ Competent Authority;

e) The standards of suitability may be relaxed.

The relaxation available in promotion for SC/ST is as follows:-

a) In case suitable SC/ST candidates are not available within the normal zone of consideration, the area of ​​consideration is extended up to five times the number of vacancies.

b) The minimum qualifying marks/assessment norms have been relaxed;

c) Upper age limit may be relaxed by five years where the upper age limit for promotion should not exceed fifty years, etc.

Q. What exemption is available to OBC?

The relaxations available to OBC in direct recruitment are as follows:

(i) 3 years relaxation in upper age limit.

(ii) The qualification regarding experience is relaxable at the discretion of the Competent Authority.

(ii) The standards of suitability may be relaxed, etc.

Q. Who is an own merit candidate?

A candidate belonging to SC/ST/OBC who is selected on the same standard of application as for general category candidates and who appears in the general merit list is considered as a self-qualified candidate. Such a candidate is adjusted against the unreserved point of the reservation roster.

Q. What are the guidelines in case of migration of reserved category person from one state to another?

When a person migrates from that part of the State in respect of which his community is Scheduled, to another part of the State in respect of which his community is not Scheduled, he shall continue to be treated as a member of a Scheduled Caste or a Scheduled Tribe or an Other Backward class, as the case may be.

When a person who is a member from one State to another, he can claim to belong to a Scheduled Caste or a Scheduled Tribe only in relation to the State to which he originally belonged and not in relation to that State, from where he has emigrated.

Q. In case the reserved seat remains vacant, can the ineligible person be filled up?

For a time there was such a system in educational institutions where the reserved seats that remained vacant were opened to all. That is, it was put in the open category, but according to a directive issued by the Ministry of Education, the reserved seats will not be put in the open category, but in such a situation the cut-off can be brought down to fill the vacant seats. But the reserved seat will be filled by the person of the reserved category only.

Must read next reservation articles to understand all concept related to reservation in india. Many keywords or keyterms are not defined here, But don’t worry all such keywords are well defined in next articles and you will also find some separate articles on various related topics such as Creamy layer, difference between horizontal and vertical reservation in india etc. So read all related articles also to understand the concept properly.

Constitution of India
Commentary on constitution (fundamental rights) – d d basu
FAQs Related to Reservation
National Commission for Scheduled Castes [NCSC
National Commission for Scheduled Tribes [NCST]
National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC)
Right to Equality
Fundamental Rights Introduction : Article 12 & 13
Conflict Between Fundamental Rights and DPSP & Encyclopedia Etc.