A bench of Justice U.U. Lalit and Justice D.Y. Chandrachud said: “Following the decision in B.K. Pavitra, the state government duly carried out the exercise of collating and analysing data on the compelling factors adverted to by the Constitution Bench.
“The Reservation Act 2018 has cured the deficiency which was noticed by B.K. Pavitra in respect of the Reservation Act 2002. The Reservation Act 2018 does not amount to a usurpation of judicial power by the state legislature.”
The judgment pertained to the principal challenge through a batch of cases against the validity of the Karnataka Extension of Consequential Seniority to Government Servants Promoted on the Basis of Reservation (to the Posts in the Civil Services of the State) Act 2018. According to this Act, employees belonging to SC/ST will get one-time promotion, and it was referred as a “catch-up” clause.
In 2002, the Karnataka government enacted a very similar law. However, it faced a challenge to its constitutional validity. In 2006, a Constitutional Bench had upheld its validity, but raised the issue of availability of quantifiable data and asked the state to diligently collect data to determine backwardness of the SC/STs.
In 2011 and 2017, the Act was again challenged.
In 2017, the Supreme Court held that it was necessary for “the state to place material on record that there was compelling necessity for such exercise of such power and decision of the state was based on material including the study that overall efficiency is not compromised”.
Addressing this apex court observation, the Karnataka government appointed the then Chief Secretary K Ratna Prabha to head a committee for studying the backwardness and inadequacy of representation of SC/ST employees. Based on the recommendations of this committee, the state government moved the Reservation Bill, which later became an Act in 2018.
The court noted merit in the submission of Karnataka that progression in a cadre based on promotion cannot be treated as the acquisition of creamy layer status.
“The Reservation Act 2018 adopts the principle that consequential seniority is not an additional benefit but a consequence of the promotion which is granted to the SCs and STs,” it said.
The petitioners argued that the SCs and STs cannot be split or bifurcated and the adoption of the ‘creamy layer’ principle would amount to a split in the homogenous groups of the SCs and STs.
Dismissing the petitions, the court observed that it found no merit in the batch of writ petitions as the constitutional validity of the Reservation Act 2018 has been upheld.