Jarnail Singh v. Lacchmi Narayan Gupta [(2018) 10 SCC 396]

By Adv. Nikita Vaigankar


The case of JARNAIL SINGH VS LACCHMI NARAYAN GUPTA is prominently known as the ‘Reservation in Promotion case’ and its verdict was delivered by a five-judge bench of the Supreme Court on 26th September 2018. This case deals with the reservation of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled tribes which has always been a disputed and serious concept in India with extremely different views. This case basically focuses on the topic of reservation in promotions and also attempts to set a criterion of creamy layer by identifying various facets of creamy layer.

The foundation of the reservation of rights was laid down by Dr. B. R. Ambedkar prominently. Reservations were granted to the Scheduled castes, Scheduled tribes, and other backward classes because of their non-involvement and backwardness in the social sector due to lack of opportunities. Through reservations, they were given a chance to represent themselves as well as their community in the public sector. However, after this, they did get a job based on the reservation but they were not given promotions, and hence, reservations in promotions were also introduced for the protection and advancements of their rights.

Constitutional Background

Before jumping onto the analysis of the said case, it is pertinent to understand the background of our constitution which part emphasizes the concept of reservation. Article 16 of the Constitution of India speaks about ‘Equality of opportunities in the matters of Public Employment’ and clause (4) of the said Article clearly states about the reservation of appointment or posts in favor of any backward class of citizens who are not adequately represented in the services under the State.

This makes a clear view that the constitution did speak about the reservation right at the time of coming into force but the question for its revision came when it was realized that though jobs were given to the backward classes based on the reservation they were not given promotions and hence, in the year 1992, the Supreme court in its nine-bench judgment of Indra Sawhney v. Union Of India, (AIR 1993 SC 477) allowed reservations in the promotion to continue for five years post 16/11/1992. 

Later on, in 1995, 77th Amendment to the constitution was brought into force which introduced Article 16 (4A), which states that the ‘state is free to enact provisions for reservations in matters related to promotions of scheduled castes and scheduled tribes which are not adequately represented in the services under the state’.

After this, there came an interesting situation where the vacancies kept as reservations for SCs and STs were not fulfilled and came to be identified as backlog vacancies. If these vacancies were to be carried further combined with the new vacancies along with the reservations, it crossed the 50% of the ceiling limit of the reservation kept in abeyance of Indra Sawhney’s case. 

Thus, another amendment was made to the constitution, which is the 81st Amendment introduced in the year 2000, which added clause (4B) to article 16 of the constitution. Article 16 (4B) specifies that the ‘state is free to consider any unfilled vacancy of the previous year to be filled up in the succeeding year but shall not be considered together as one class of vacancies in the succeeding year’. This amendment was done in order to prevent the crossing of the ceiling limit of the reservation of 50% in that current year.

Base for the Case of Jarnail Singh

The provisions of Article 16 (4) i.e. (4A) and (4B) were challenged in the case of M. Nagraj vs Union of India (AIR 2007 SC 71). This case examines the provisions of Article 16 (4) in the light of the right to equality and of equal opportunities and fairness. The Hon’ble Supreme Court in its judgment upheld the validity of the said provisions and stated that if the state wished to exercise its discretion and make provisions with respect to the reservation, then it is necessary for the state to collect quantifiable data showing the backwardness of the class in areas of public employment.

This case was however criticized for not elaborating and balancing the principles of creamy layer and it also faced other criticisms. The aftermath of this case brought many uncertainties and left the concept of reservation at the stake of the court. The courts applied the Nagraj case and struck down various reservation policies of the government on the ground that no quantifiable data is collected by the state. However, on the other hand, the case of Nagraj itself does not speak about the terms and contents of quantifiable data leaving the state in confusion. Hence, the need was felt to reconsider the case of Nagraj in Jarnail Singh vs Lacchmi Narain Gupta i.e. the present case.

Issues Raised

  1. Whether a case of Nagraj needs re-examination or reconsideration?
  2. The second issue was related to the ‘quantifiable information’ that has to be collected by the government before the promotion of the SCs and STs.
  3. Whether the reservation in promotions should be prohibited to those who fall under the ambit of ‘creamy layer’?

The Viewpoint of the Court:

The Supreme Court unanimously opined that the case of Nagraj need not be reconsidered by a larger bench of judges. In order to review the decision, the court must be fully satisfied that its earlier decision was erroneous or at least the decision contain a fair amount of ambiguity or confusion.

The requirement of proof to show the backwardness is invalid in nature as the backward castes are presumed to be backward for the deep-rooted reasons of the harassment faced by them. It was observed that SC and ST castes can become educationally as well as economically progressive but they would not be able to free themselves from the clutches of social backwardness as the society identifies them to be belonging to a particular class of individuals which itself won’t allow them to compete equally with the other individuals.

Overview of the Judgment

First of all, the court refused to review or reconsider the case of Nagraj to the higher bench of judges. The court raised its opinion considering that the case of Nagraj had applied the test of creamy layer. The court observed that the purpose of reservation would be defeated if the creamy layer class is not excluded. A five-judge bench of the Supreme Court thus held that those belonging to the creamy layer within the SCs and STs would not be allowed to take the benefits of reservation. People belonging to the creamy layer would be socially, educationally, and economically advanced and hence, they should be excluded from the ambit of the reservation to safeguard the concept of equality.

The Hon’ble Court considered a well-praised submission from Adv Rakesh Dwivedi who submitted that while making promotions to the higher posts, the situation of SC And ST class employees need to be scrutinized. Higher the post, lower the charges of discrimination and backwardness, and therefore, for the higher-level posts, the reservation shall be avoided.

The summarizations of Justice Jeevan Reddy were analyzed and the concept of the creamy layer was constructively stated that there are sections among the backward classes in our society who are highly advanced in all respects and thus, they do not deserve to take the benefits which are made for the true backward people. Therefore, a line has to be drawn to distinguish these people but that also does not mean that what is given in one hand is taken from the other. The main basis for the exclusion of the creamy layer and those who are categorized into the creamy layer should be highly economical as well as socially advanced people. He further suggested the constitution of a body both at the Centre and the State level to identify and maintain records/lists of the socially advanced persons who shall be excluded from the benefits of reservations.

The observations of Justice Kuldeep Singh were made that rich and advanced persons among the backward castes can stay in the society without being discriminated against. Moreover, the case may occur as these persons may perform acts of discrimination against individuals in their class and also may conquer the benefits which are meant for the true backward castes.

The court relied on the case of Indra Sawhney and invalidated the conditions laid down by Nagraj for reservations. In Indra Sawhney, the nine-judge bench of the Supreme Court held that the test of backwardness does not apply to SCs and STs as they are presumed to be backward in any sense. Thus, the requirement of proving backward was vehemently struck down by the Court being directly opposite to Indra Sawhney’s case.

Justice Nariman observed “the whole object of reservation is to see that backward classes of citizens move forward so that they march hand in hand with other citizens of India on an equal basis. This will not be possible if only the creamy layer within that class bag all the coveted jobs in the public sector and perpetuate themselves, leaving the rest of the class as backward as they always were.”

According to this, if those who do not deserve the job get it, then the whole purpose of the creamy class would fail. The object of the creamy layer is to apply the equality principle as the unequal and those who really deserve the job would not be able to get it and would be weeded out.

Criticisms levied against this Judgment:

It has to be noted that the court in its judgment presumed that the Nagraj case had applied the test of creamy layer to the SCs and STs. However, in reality, it is not so as the Nagraj case did not expressly apply the said test of creamy layer. Therefore, there still exists confusion and ambiguity surrounding the reservation in promotion. 

Criticisms were raised against the judgment considering it as vague and unwarranted findings on the concept of creamy layer. It was blamed for not being clear as to whether the application of the creamy layer test is to be applied only to the reservation in promotions or whether it can be also applied at the initial stage of reservation in jobs. Critics even went to the extent of stating that the Supreme court has muddled the law of reservation in promotions with its ambiguous ruling in Jarnail Singh. The need was raised to refer the Nagraj case to the larger bench of the court to give more clarity on the law of reservation in promotions. 


This case is a landmark judgment discussing various issues and covering the magnitude of reservation of jobs in the public domain. This case allows us to understand that equality is a right of everyone and therefore, the members of the society should strive to provide equal opportunities to those who are in need of it.

The case has brought about the important applicability of a creamy layer in the jurisprudence of reservation. However, it failed to analyze it in depth and to justify it, thereby bringing the blurred vision in the reservation issue.

Due to this uncertainty, recently, the Narendra Modi government has requested the Supreme Court to reconsider its decision in the present case of Jarnail Singh vs Lakshmi Narain and others.

Hence, there is a high need that the courts ascertain their clear views regarding reservation in jobs both at the initial stage as well as in promotions in order to avoid friction between the judiciary and Parliament.

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