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CITATION(2018) 10 SCC 396
DATE OF JUDGEMENT26 September 2018
COURTSupreme Court of India
APPELLANTJarnail Singh
RESPONDENTLachhmi Narain Gupta
BENCHFormer Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, Justice Kurian Joseph, Justice RF Nariman and Justice SK Kaul and Justice Indu Malhotra


The case of Jarnail Singh vs. Lachhmi Narain Gupta, also known as the ‘Reservation in Promotion Case’. This case re-examined a previous judgment related to reservations for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in government job promotions and addressed the concept of the ‘creamy layer’ among these communities, which considers economic status in determining reservation eligibility. The ‘creamy layer’ criterion assumes that economic progress eradicates backwardness, leading to social advancement, but some perceive it as caste discrimination within institutions. Reservation in India has been a contentious issue since its origins after the Poona Pact, where Dr. B.R. Ambedkar advocated for employment reservation for the “depressed classes.” Over time, reservation expanded to encompass not just poverty but also the exclusion faced by these groups. Initially granted for government jobs and public services to allow representation, the issue of lack of promotions led to the introduction of reservation in promotions for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. This case spotlights the judiciary’s decision on reviewing the conditions concerning these reservations.


  • The 2006 M. Nagraj and Others vs. Union of India and Others decision faced challenges from several states and the Centre, contesting that it made granting reservations in job promotions unduly difficult for government roles and public services.
  • The petitioner’s stance was that the Nagraj Judgment imposed unjust conditions, prompting the need to reassess and refer the established conditions to a seven-judge bench.
  • In the context of Indian law, reservation is a significant and contentious subject, notably rooted in Article 16 of the Constitution that initially didn’t encompass reservation until the Indra Sawhney case of 1992.
  • Article 16(4) allowed provisions for reservation of backward classes in appointments but did not extend to promotions. This directly affected the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, leading to the introduction of Clause 4A, enabling reservations in promotions.
  • The 81st Amendment added Articles 16(4A) and 16(4B) but their constitutional validity was challenged in the Nagraj Case. The five-judge bench ruling indicated that for reservations in promotions for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, the state must gather ‘quantifiable data’ demonstrating the class’s backwardness and their under-representation in public employment. This condition contradicted the Indira Sawhney case and was deemed unconstitutional.
  • The application of the ‘creamy layer’ principle to Scheduled Castes and Tribes was controversial, as it was initially applicable only to other backward classes, raising concerns about equality. Subsequently, a petition was filed to review the Nagraj verdict.


  • Whether the Nagaraj decision, which affirmed the reservation in promotions for SC/STs, was correctly made?
  • Whether Nagaraj violates the Indra Sawhney judgment by necessitating fresh proof of the backwardness of SC/STs for reservation in promotions?


  • The Attorney General KK Venugopal contended that the Indian Constitution had explicitly classified Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes as inherently ‘backwards,’ both socially and economically marginalized. There’s a well-defined distinction set for these groups compared to others. This implies that there shouldn’t be further tests to ascertain their backwardness and inadequacy. Advocates for collecting quantifiable data argued that individuals can go to great lengths in pursuit of a promotion, suggesting that verifying a person’s backwardness was a necessary measure. They believed it wouldn’t compromise anyone’s integrity or cause harm; rather, it would serve as a precautionary check. Moreover, they viewed data collection as the government’s responsibility, asserting that removing this obligation would suggest the government was seeking to ease its own burdens.
  • In the Jarnail Singh case, the court interpreted the creamy layer concept as an integral part of the equality principle outlined in Article 14, 15, and 16. Several arguments were presented regarding this equality principle. Firstly, it was argued that a fundamental aspect of identifying a class as backward involved excluding individuals who were socially and economically advanced within that class. Secondly, proponents emphasized the necessity of excluding the creamy layer to ensure that genuinely backward individuals within the class could access reservation benefits, preventing those in the creamy layer from monopolizing these advantages. Thirdly, it was contended that failure to exclude the creamy layer would violate equality principles. This exclusion would treat equals differently, such as the general classes versus the forward among the scheduled castes and tribes, and it would treat unequals in the same manner, like backward classes and the forward among them.
  • An additional argument surfaced, centred on the perceived risk associated with applying the creamy layer principle to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. Recognizing the distinctions between the Other Backward Classes and the Scheduled Castes and Tribes is crucial. A constitutional court cannot overlook these differences and must bear in mind that upholding equality as a fundamental right is imperative and must be protected at any expense.


Initially, the judgment affirmed that the Supreme Court’s 2006 Nagaraj decision didn’t require revaluation by a seven-judge Bench. However, it revised Nagaraj in relation to the concept of ‘further backwardness.’ In Nagaraj, it was established that if a state opted for granting promotions through reservations, it must gather measurable data to exhibit the existing backwardness of the SC/ST community. On the issue of further backwardness, the judgment found this condition to be in conflict with the nine-judge Bench ruling in Indra Sawhney. Justice Nariman stated that Indra Sawhney does not mandate the collection of quantifiable data as a prerequisite for granting promotions through reservations.

Despite modifying the further backwardness criterion, the judgment introduced the application of the ‘creamy layer’ exclusion to SC/STs. Previously, this exclusion was applicable only to the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) concerning reservations. The Court emphasized that the creamy layer exclusion is a principle of equality. It argued that failing to implement this principle would infringe upon the right to equality in two ways: by treating equals differently, such as the general classes and the forward among Backward Classes (SC/ST), and by treating unequals the same, such as backward classes and the forward among backward classes. Therefore, the Court deemed the exclusion of the creamy layer principle essential to uphold the right to equality.

Regarding the application of the creamy layer principle to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, Justice Nariman clarified that this action does not alter the Presidential list under Article 341 and 342 of the Constitution. He stressed that the specific castes and groups mentioned under the Presidential Order remain unchanged, but individuals from these groups who have transcended untouchability or backwardness due to being part of the creamy layer are excluded from benefiting from promotion reservations.

The Court interpreted the creamy layer exclusion as an integral facet of Equality in shaping reservation policies. Justice Nariman specifically overruled the earlier observation by Former Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishanan in Ashok Thakur, where it was mentioned that the creamy layer principle is merely for identification and not a principle of equality.

The Bench clarified that the second condition, where states must provide quantifiable data regarding inadequate representation, remains valid. However, inadequacy of representation should be specific to a particular cadre and not in proportion to the SC/ST population in the state.


Various marginalized groups such as the backward classes, Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, and the untouchables faced mistreatment and were deprived of opportunities, whether in work or education. Their need for reservations wasn’t merely a welfare measure but a demand for rightful representation, a right they had been denied for years. Even with reservations in government jobs, discrimination persisted, hindering their ability to achieve high-ranking positions, regardless of their merit. The introduction of reservations in promotions by the judiciary was a significant move, albeit one that faced opposition. It’s commendable that our government prioritizes the interests of the underprivileged, and our judiciary, despite imperfections, consistently reviews cases and amends laws to ensure that every individual in our nation receives what they rightfully deserve.


This Article is written by Aastha Srivastava, a 3rd Year LL.B student of DES Shri Navalmal Firodia Law College, Pune; Intern at Legal Vidhiya.


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