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Citation: AIR 1993 SC 477 

Date of Judgment: 16th November 1992  

Court:  Supreme Court of India  

Case Type:  Public Interest Litigation  Appellant Indira Sawhney  

Respondent: Union of India  

Bench: M.H. Kania, M.N. Venkatachaliah, S.  Ratnavel Pandian, Dr. T.K. Thommen, A.M.  

Ahmadi, Kuldip Singh, P.B. Sawant, R.M.  

Sahai, B.J. Reddy  

Referred Articles 14, 15, 16, 46, 340 and 380 of the  Indian Constitution, 1950


In 1992, the Supreme Court of India handed down a historic decision in the matter of Indira  Sawhney v. Union of India, also referred to as the Mandal Commission case. The lawsuit  concerned reservations for members of socially and educationally backward classes (SEBCs), also  known as Other Backward Classes (OBCs), in government employment and educational  institutions. The Indian government created the Mandal Commission, also known as the Second  Backward Classes Commission, in 1979 to identify the socially and educationally backward  classes and suggest solutions for their improvement. In 1980, the Commission, led by B.P. Mandal turned in its final report, suggesting a 27% reservation for SEBCs in public employment and  educational institutions.  

The Mandal Commission’s recommendations have been challenged in a number of petitions. The  petitioners’ main argument was that the reservation policy violated the equality principle  entrenched in the Indian Constitution and would result in reverse discrimination against candidates  in the general category. The Supreme Court maintained the constitutionality of SEBC reservations  in its November 16, 1992 decision. The court did place some restrictions on the reservation policy,  though. It was decided that barring extenuating circumstances, the total number of reservations  should not exceed 50% of the available seats. The court also ruled that members of the SEBCs 

who are socially and educationally advanced should not be eligible for reservation benefits, a term  known as the “creamy layer.”  

The case remains an important reference point in discussions and debates surrounding reservation  policies and social justice in India. It highlighted the complex and sensitive nature of addressing  inequalities and providing opportunities for marginalized communities in a diverse and democratic  society.  

Keywords: Mandal commission, creamy layer, reservations, caste-based reservations, backward  classes, equality, article 14, quota.  


1. In accordance with Article 340(2) of the Indian Constitution, the Backward Class  Commission, also known as the Kaka Kalelkar Commission, was founded on January 29,  1953. The panel identified 2,399 castes as being socially and economically backward in its  report, which was turned in on March 30, 1955. However, the recommendations of the  commission were rejected by the government in 1961.  

2. On January 1, 1979, the second backward classes commission also known as Mandal  Commission was constituted during the Janata Party administration led by Prime Minister  Morarji Desai. This commission was presided over by Sir B.P. Mandal was responsible for  formulating the standards for ‘socially and economically backward classes  (SEBCs) reservation in public employment and posts.  

3. In its report, which the Mandal Commission delivered in December 1980, 3,746 castes  were classified as being socially and economically backward. It proposed a 27%  reservation for OBCs and an additional 10% for openings for socially and economically  backward classes (SEBCs).  

4. A group of petitioners, led by Indira Sawhney, challenged the implementation of the  Mandal Commission’s recommendations. They argued that reservations based solely on  caste were against the principles of equality, non-discrimination, and the reservation policy  should be based on economic criteria rather than caste.  

5. Subsequently, the case was brought before a nine-judge bench of the Supreme Court. The  bench sent the administration a notice requesting more information about the standards for 

the proposed 27% reserve scheme. The parameters indicated in the office memorandum,  however, are said to have been inadequately explained by the Indian government.  


1. Is the reservation policy based on caste constitutionally valid or violating Article 16 of the  constitution?  

2. Should reservations be determined by quantifiable data on social and educational  backwardness?  

3. What should be the maximum limit or cap on total reservations in government jobs and  educational institutions?  

4. Should the “creamy layer” within reserved categories be excluded from availing  reservations?  


 It was argued that the policy of reservations based on caste violated the principle of equality  enshrined in the Indian Constitution. They contended that the reservation system  discriminates against individuals who do not belong to the reserved categories, as it denies  them equal opportunities in public employment solely based on their caste or social  background.  

 The petitioner emphasized that the reservations should be based on economic  backwardness rather than caste. They argued that poverty and lack of access to  opportunities are more relevant factors to consider when addressing social inequality.  According to the petitioner, reservations should be provided to individuals who are  economically disadvantaged, regardless of their caste.  

 The petitioner also contended that the exclusion of the “creamy layer” from reservations  was not effectively implemented. The “creamy layer” refers to individuals within the  reserved categories who are already economically well-off and socially advanced. The  petitioner argued that failing to exclude the creamy layer perpetuates privilege and hampers  the intended objective of uplifting the marginalized sections of society. 

 The petitioner raised concerns about the potential adverse impact of caste-based  reservations on social harmony and national integration. They argued that the reservation  system perpetuates caste divisions and hampers the development of a cohesive society. The  petitioner contended that a more inclusive and merit-based approach would foster unity  and integration among citizens.  


 It was argued that reservations based on caste were necessary to achieve social justice and  provide affirmative action to historically disadvantaged and marginalized sections of  society. The reservation policy aimed to uplift these sections and provide them with equal  opportunities to access education and public employment.  

 The government contended that reservations were a form of compensatory discrimination  aimed at remedying historical injustices inflicted upon certain castes and communities. The  reservation policy sought to address the deep-seated caste-based discrimination that had  persisted for centuries and provide a level playing field for historically oppressed groups.  

 The respondent maintained that the reservation policy was constitutionally valid under  Article 16(4) of the Indian Constitution. This article allows the state to make provisions for  the advancement of socially and educationally backward classes. The government argued  that the reservation policy was a legitimate exercise of this constitutional provision to uplift  the socially and educationally backward classes.  

 The government emphasized that reservations in public employment promoted  representation and diversity in the workforce. By ensuring adequate representation of  historically marginalized communities, the government aimed to create a more inclusive  administration that could effectively address the needs and concerns of all sections of  society. Reservations were seen as a means to diversify the composition of public  institutions and enhance social cohesion.  


In its judgment, the Supreme Court of India upheld the concept of reservations as a means to  achieve social justice and upliftment of marginalized sections of society. However, the court  emphasized the importance of maintaining a balance between the interests of the backward classes 

and the overall welfare of the nation. The judgment clarified that reservations under Article 16(4)  should not exceed the ceiling limit of 50%. The court held that exceeding this limit would  undermine the principles of equality and equal opportunity, and could lead to reverse  discrimination against other deserving candidates.  

The court recognized that backwardness cannot be solely determined based on economic criteria  and that social and educational backwardness are equally important considerations. It  recommended the establishment of the National Commission for Backward Classes to identify and  categorize backward classes and emphasized the need for periodic revision of the list of backward  classes to ensure that reservations reach the deserving sections of society.  

The court held that the creamy layer should be excluded from the benefits of reservations. It  emphasized that reservations should be targeted towards the truly disadvantaged sections of  society who have historically faced social discrimination and lack access to equal opportunities.  Including the creamy layer within the reservations would defeat the purpose of affirmative action  and may perpetuate inequalities by providing benefits to those who are already socially and  economically privileged.  

This is written by Tripura Sriya Pilladi a student of ICFAI Law School, Hyderabad, 6th semester, an Intern under Legal Vidhya. 


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