Reservation Law Insider

By Samriddhi Thakar


Recently, the Supreme Court of India struck down the Maharashtra State Reservation for Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBC) Act, 2018 which extends reservation to the Maratha Community in public education and employment.[1]

The reservation policy of India is an old practice. The roots can be traced back to ancient India. Earlier, society was divided on the basis of caste system i.e., Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishyas, and Shudras also known as untouchables. The Brahmins belonged to the upper caste whereas the Shudra’s belonged to the lowest caste. They were considered polluted, impure and were treated very badly.

They were ostracized from society and had to live outside the village. Furthermore, they had no rights. Even the shadow of them was considered as impure. This was the condition of people in ancient India. Thus, the Reservation policy was introduced to give rights to these people. Equality to all is clearly stated in Preamble of Indian Constitution.

To improve the situation of the Shudra’s and to give them their rights, equal opportunity, and treat them at par with all the other people, the Reservation system in India was started.

This article will deal with the current structure of Reservation in India.

What is reservation?

Reservation is a system that provides the underprivileged an opportunity for equal participation and representation in governance or education.

In simple words, it means giving the underprivileged people access to educational institutions, government jobs, or legislature. It is also called system of affirmative action.

The age-old caste system is responsible for the origination of the reservation system in our country. The main aim of the system is to uplift the people and give them their rights. The purpose of this system is to provide reservation for the advancement of Scheduled Caste (SC) and the Scheduled Tribes (ST) or to any socially or educationally backward classes or Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) of our country.

It is specifically mentioned in Article 15(4), 15(5) and 15(6) of the Indian Constitution. Further, to provide adequate representation to the backward classes or economically weaker sections of the society is mentioned in Article 16(4) and Article 16(6) of the Indian Constitution, and to provide equal platform to all irrespective of their caste.

In which areas is Reservation provided?

Following are the areas to which reservation is provided:

  • Educational Institutions
  • Government Jobs
  • Legislature

History of Reservation system

The reservation system originated due to the age-old caste system practices which were prevalent in ancient India. The lower caste people were exploited by the upper caste. They were deprived of their basic rights and were alienated from society.

To overcome this problem and give adequate representation to the lower caste people, the reservation system was introduced. Shahu Maharaj of Kolhapur introduced the system of reservation for the non-brahmins and backward classes in the field of education. Years later, the Communal Award of 1933 made provision for separate electorates for Muslim, Sikh, Indian Christians, Anglo-Indians, Europeans, and the Dalits.

After that, Poona Pact was signed between B.R Ambedkar and Mahatma Gandhi wherein certain seats were reserved for depressed castes within the Hindu electorate. Post-independence major initiatives were taken for SCs, STs and after 1980 in favor of Other Backward Caste (OBC).

A Mandal Commission was set up in 1979 by the Indian Government. The main aim of this commission was to identify the socially or educationally backward classes and recommend steps for the advancement of the same.

The Mandal Commission concluded that India’s population consisted of approximately 52% OBCs, therefore 27% of government jobs should be reserved for them. Initially, the reservation for the SC/ST was given for a period of 10 years.

But later on, the need was felt to continue the reservation system to overcome the problem of societal discrimination.

Reservation in India

Following table gives an idea regarding the reservation given to the applicants in educational institutions or government jobs:

Scheduled Caste 15%
Scheduled Tribe 7.5%
Other Backward Class (OBC) 27%
Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) 10%
Persons with Benchmark Disabilities 4%

From the above table, it is clear that 60% reservation is given to various categories such as SCs, STs, OBC and EWS in respect to government jobs and educational institutions.

Further, 4% reservation is provided to people with disabilities. Thus, this leaves 40% seats available for people on merit.[2]

Initially, the reservation was provided on the basis of social and educational backwardness. But, after 103rd Constitutional Amendment of 2019, economic backwardness was also considered for reservation.[3]

State wise distribution of reservation in India

Every state has right to reserve certain seats for the underprivileged people. The state wise distribution of reservation for some of the states is as follows:

  • Maharashtra

Initially, according to the State Reservation Act, the total reservation in Maharashtra State was 52%. Further, with the addition of 12% (Education), 13% (Jobs) Maratha quota, the total reservation in the state had gone up to 64-65%.

The 10% quota for Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) announced by the centre in 2019 is also effective in the State. Recently, after the Supreme Court order on Maratha Reservation, the total reservation in that state is 62%.

  • Haryana and Bihar

In Haryana and Bihar, the reservation quota is 60% including the 10% Economically Weaker Section quota.

  • Telangana

The reservation quota in the state of Telangana is 50%. But in 2017, the Telangana Government had passed a bill hiking the reservation quota of Muslims from 4% to 12% and Scheduled Tribes 6% to 10%, taking overall reservation beyond 50%.

  • Gujarat

In the state of Gujarat, the reservation quota is 59% including the EWS quota. Whereas the quota prescribed for the state of Kerala is 60%

  • Tamil Nadu

Tamil Nadu has 69% reservation. It is bifurcated into 18% for Scheduled Caste, 1% for Scheduled Tribes category, 20% for Most Backward Castes (MBC) and 30% reservation for Other Backward Castes (OBC).

  • Jharkhand

Jharkhand has made 50% reservation quota for its underprivileged people. Where the Scheduled Caste get 10%, Scheduled Tribes get 26% and Other Backward Class gets 14% quota.

  • Chhattisgarh

Chhattisgarh is the state with highest reservation quota of India. The state has given 82% reservation to the underprivileged people. Almost half of the State’s population belongs to Other Backward Class (OBC). Whereas, the reservation for Scheduled Caste is 13%, Scheduled Tribe is 32%, OBC is 27% and EWS is 10%.

  • Madhya Pradesh

Madhya Pradesh is another state with highest percentage of reservation i.e., 73%. The reservation for Scheduled Caste is 16%, Scheduled Tribe is 20%, OBC is 27% and EWS is 10%.[4]

Constitutional provisions regarding the reservation

The Constitution of India lays down certain provisions regarding the reservation in India, namely:

  • Article 15(4) of the Indian Constitution states that the State has right to make special provision for the advancement of any socially and educationally backward classes of citizens or for the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes.
  • Article 15(5) of the Indian Constitution states provisions created for the reservation of SC, ST, Backward classes in private educational institutions.
  • Article 16(4) of the Indian Constitution states that the State has right to make provision for the reservation to provide adequate representation of all the castes in Government services.
  • Article 330 and 332 of the Indian Constitution provides for specific representation through reservation of seats for SCs and STs in the Parliament and in the State Legislative Assemblies respectively.

Case laws

  • Indra Sawhney Vs. Union of India[5] – Issued 50% Cap on Caste-based reservation

In the case the Supreme Court held that reservation for beneficiaries should not exceed 50% of India’s population. It was this case that issued a cap limit on caste-based reservations.

  • State of Madras Vs. Champakam Dorairajan,[6]Protection of fundamental rights under Article 15(1) of the Indian Constitution

In this case Madras Government had reserved certain seats in State Medical and Engineering colleges for different communities in various proportions on the basis of religion, caste and race.

Hence, the Supreme Court held the law void as it classified students on the basis of caste and religion irrespective of merit and violates the provision of Article 15(1) which states non-discrimination of the state against the citizens based on religion, caste, race, sex, place of birth, etc.

Does India need reservation even today?

Even though India is progressing, still there is a need to provide reservation to certain classes of society. It is the duty of the government to provide equal opportunity and status to the unprivileged people.

To achieve that, reservation is one solution. But that is not the only solution scholarships, funds or even coaching can be provided for such people. Even today there are many people who belong to the lower caste and do not have access to equal opportunity and status.

Even after years of independence the lower caste people are looked upon in the same way they were some years ago. Caste discrimination still exists in rural areas.

The Preamble of Constitution of India states “equality” to all the citizens. But due to unfair discrimination, equality to all people has remained a distant dream.


The reservation system in India is very old. The main aim of the reservation is to uplift the unprivileged and given them equal opportunity. Back in the day the lower caste people have suffered a lot to give them a chance to prove themselves reservation system was created.

Today various communities have started asking for reservation. Therefore, the ambit of reservation should be fixed.

If all the communities in the society are given reservation, then it would be very difficult and injustice for the other communities who work on merit. In my opinion, reservation should be given only to the people who are really needy.

Now the situation has slightly changed from what it was in the past. Thus, every person should achieve the goals by the way of merit and not by reservation. Reservation should be limited to very few people.


  1. Supreme Court strikes down Maratha Reservation law for exceeding 50 percent cap; upholds Indra Sawhney, 102nd Constitutional Amendment, “Bar and Bench”, available at: (last visited on 16 June, 2021)

  2. What is reservation percentage in India? available at: (last visited on 16 June 2021)
  3. Reservation in India, available at: (last visited on 16 June 2021)
  4. Alok Rajan, Existing reservation quota limit of the Indian states, “India Today” available at: (last visited on 16 June 2021)
  5. Indra Sawhney Vs. Union of India, AIR 1993 SC 477
  6. State of Madras Vs. Champakam Dorairajan, 1951 AIR 226,1951 SCR 525

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