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M.NAGARAJ v. UOI (2006) 8 SCC 212

Case NameM Nagaraj & Others vs Union Of India, 2006
Equivalent Citations2006 8 SCC 212; writ petition (civil) 61 of 2002
Date of Judgement19 October 2006
CourtSupreme Court of India
Case NumberWrit Petition (Civil)  61 of 2002
Case TypeWrit Petition (Civil)
Petitioner M. Nagaraj and Others
RespondentUnion Of India and others
BenchHon’ble Chief Justice Y.K. Sabharwal, Hon’ble Justice K.G. Balakrishnan, Hon’ble Justice S.H. Kapadia, Hon’ble Justice C.K. Thakker, & Hon’ble Justice P.K. Balasubramanyan
ReferredArticles 14, 16, 16(4A), 323-A, 335 and 368 of the Indian Constitution, 1950


With the pronouncement of the Eighty-fifth amendment to the Indian Constitution, several writ petitions were filed- mainly certiorari, under Article 32 to quash the inclusion of clause 4A under Article 16, which was included via the said amendment. The amendment provides for reservation in promotion with consequential seniority, which the petitioner found to be violative of basic structure and unconstitutional. In their plea, the petitioners state that under Article 16(1), there is a connotation of accelerated promotion, and implementation of “consequential seniority” will be violative of that and Article 14 guarantees equality before the law. The amendment overturned the judgements in cases like Union of India v. Virpal Singh Chauhan, Ajit Singh Januja vs State of Punjab, and Indra Sawhney vs Union of India. The petitioners further claim that the parliament has violated the division of powers by assuming the judiciary’s role, contrary to their legislative role by the amendment and overturning of the said judicial decisions. “Consequential Seniority”, as per the petitioners, is an inefficient method and will lead to disparities and discrimination. Therefore, the amendment is constitutionally incoherent with the basic structure and should be deemed invalid. 


After analysing the facts of the case, the issues can be broadly categorised as follows:

  1. The constitutional validity of the Eighty-fifth Amendment. 2001
  2. Interpretation of the Eighty-fifth Amendment. 2001
  3. Application of the Seventy-seventh Amendment of 1995
  4. Application of the Eighty-first Amendment of 2000

The objective is also the check the implementation of these amendments concerning the overturning of Supreme Court rulings in cases involving promotions and their application retroactively


The petitioners emphasise that Article 16 must be viewed in conjunction with Article 14 and numerous other Part IV articles since equality is a fundamental component of the Constitution and cannot possibly be imagined as one of its essential elements. Further, Part XIV of the Constitution has special provisions to provide certain rights and protection for those in the course of public employment, these provisions can be comprehended in Articles 309, 311, 315, 316, 317 and 318-323. Under Article 323-A, special requirements are enlisted for the creation of tribunals for adjudicatory purposes. The significance of efficiency in administration is acknowledged in Article 335, and the Constitution’s many sections show that public employment has always been a top priority. According to the petitioners, this Court has established in several decisions over the years that the concepts of “equality” and “affirmative action” are the cornerstones of our Constitution. It is claimed that the words “nothing in this article” in Article 16(4) have a restricted meaning since they cannot nullify Article 16(1). To promote equitable chances and uphold individual rights, a balance must be found. It is argued that while “group expectation” in Article 16(4) is not a basic right but rather an enabling power that is not paired with responsibility, enforceability is provided for in Article 16(1) as an individual right. Reverse discrimination, according to the argument, would occur if the structural balance of equality in light of efficiency is upset and the individual right is infringed upon by excessive support for collective expectations. It is urged that under Article 368, the limiting power of amendments cannot be extended to an unlimited one, as previously established in Minerva Mills v. Union of India, The essential structural principles that support fundamental rights cannot be challenged using directive principles. In the area of quantitative restrictions, there is a distinction between quota limits (for example, 15% to SCs) and ceiling limits/maximum allowable reservation limits (for example, 50%). In the cases mentioned before, It has been established that carryover vacancies cannot have more than 50% of the positions filled. As a result, it is argued that the challenged amendments violate the Constitution’s fundamental framework and core principles, which are stated in the preamble and summarised in Articles 14, 16, and 19; they also violate the fundamental principles of equality, justice, the rule of law, and secularism, all of which are enshrined in the Constitution; and they violate the Supreme Court’s fundamental role as the Constitution’s interpreter. It is asserted that Article 335 as originally published must be read along with Articles 14 and 16.

The respondents argue,that there are no such limitations/restrictions placed via constituent power of Article 368. Changes and repairs can be made as and when required to safeguard the core structure. The Supreme Court’s most recent interpretation of the pertinent Constitutional clause is what is considered to be the law. The Court’s interpretation of the Constitution is incorporated into the Constitution and is consequently subject to change under Article 368 and any amendment is not judged via its exclusive compatibility with Article 13, instead, it is subjected to a violation of the Constitution. They further contest that any action taken towards the implementation of directive principles cannot go against the basic structure and it can only strengthen the principles of equality concerning “justice, social, economical and political”. It is argued that the basic structure of the Constitution is comprised of the ideas that flow from its preamble; that basic structure is not found in any particular article of the Constitution; and that, aside from Article 21 read in conjunction with Article 14, no specific article in Part III is a basic feature. It is argued that the equality specified in Articles 14 and 16 should not be equated with the equality that is a fundamental component of the Constitution. According to the respondents, Article 16(4) was initially put into the Constitution. Article 16(1) is superseded by the delegate’s use of the authority granted to them by Article 16(4). The sole restriction on the delegate’s authority is that it must operate within the parameters of Article 16(4), specifically concerning classes considered to be underrepresented in public employment by the State. It is claimed that the Constitution’s essential features do not include jurisprudence about public services. The right to consideration for advancement in areas of service is not a fundamental characteristic. The last argument is that Articles 16(4A) and 16(4B) are only enabling clauses. In this regard, it is argued that the challenged amendments kept reservations at the recruitment level by the ruling in Indra Sawhney, which limited Article 16(4) to initial appointments; and that Article 16(4A) is a special provision that only allows for SC and STs to receive reservations for promotion. According to the argument, if SCs/STs and OBCs are combined, OBCs will fill up all the openings, hence Article 16(4A) has been included as a unique provision. It is not only lawful but also required by the Constitution to create a distinct categorisation for SCs and STs.


The Bench began the judgement by defining and giving objective meaning and differences to the meaning of the Constitution, its scope, its essential features and the limitations on amendments. The Constitution is not a transient legal instrument that contains a collection of laws that apply only in the present. A constitutional provision must be interpreted broadly and liberally rather than narrowly and restrictively to anticipate and account for changing conditions and purposes and prevent the provision from becoming rigid and incapable of adapting to new issues and challenges. To be an essential feature, the provision has to be firstly established as a constitutional law and then tested to find out whether it is fundamental enough to bind the amending power of the Constitution, and therefore, partake in the basic structure. In furtherance to this dicta, Court further gave illustrations to evaluate how different features on their own might not appear as basic features but by other conjunctions, may constitute the basic feature. For example, the trifecta of Articles 14, 19 and 21 and the provision of free and fair elections as a part of representative elections as held in Indira Nehru Gandhi v. Raj Narain. The Bench elaborates its view on Reservation and its application by defining it to be an essentially contested topic with its broad spectrum and wide scope of interpretation. The word “reservation,” which is absent from Article 15(4) of our Constitution, is included in Article 16(4). As a result, the term “reservation” as it relates to Article 16(4) is distinct from the term “reservation” as it relates to a broader idea. On deliberating the meaning of ‘equality’ and ‘justice’, the Bench further opines that Justice is a notion that encompasses more than merely prescriptive rules. Without equality, justice is impossible. The basic right of everyone to equality before the law is guaranteed under Articles 14,17, and 25 to name a few.  

Addressing the key issues, the Apex Court opines that In public employment, the idea of “equality of opportunity” applies to every person, regardless of their social class or general category. It is necessary to strike a balance between the competing claims of individual rights under Article 16(1) and the special treatment accorded to a disadvantaged class. It is necessary to interpret Article 16(4) in light of Article 335 of the Constitution. Due to inadequate representation and the underachievement of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, the State Government is given the authority to take action under Article 16(4) of the Constitution. The Bench states that the rule of reservation is not violative of Article 16(4) and there can be no uniform application of reservation and the State must decide and act on it depending on the facts and circumstances. The Court dissented with the tribunal’s judgement in the Virpal Singh case which held that a fair reading of Article 16’s clauses (1) to (4) should imply that a candidate from the reserved category who is promoted before a candidate from the general category who is senior to him in the feeder grade must necessarily fall under that general category’s promoted category. Article 16(4) serves as the foundation for the challenged constitutional modifications, which include the insertion of Articles 16(4A) and 16(4B). They don’t change how Article 16(4) is written. They continue to be the determining criteria for the persuasive arguments, namely, backwardness and inadequate representation, which allow the States to implement reservation while keeping in mind the overall effectiveness of the State administration as defined by Article 335. Only SCs and STs are affected by these contested modifications. They do not eliminate any of the constitutional criteria, including the numeric limitation of 50%, the qualitative exclusion of the creamy layer, and the sub-classification of OBCs and SCs and STs as determined by the Indra Sawhney decision, and R.K Sabharwal. 

The Court declared at the start that it was not interested in the constitutionality of amendments, thus it proceeded with the presumption that Article 16(4A) is legitimate and does not violate the Constitution. It was determined that Articles 14 and 16(1) prescribed permissive limits to affirmative action by way of reservation under Articles 16(4) and 16(4A) of the Constitution; that Article 335 is incorporated to ensure that administrative effectiveness is not jeopardised; and that Articles 16(4) and 16(4A)’s primary goal is to provide due representation to certain classes in certain posts while keeping in mind Articles 14, 16(1), and 335. After reviewing the aforementioned judgements, the Bench believed that the catch-up rule and consequential seniority are notions that the judiciary has developed to limit the scope of reservation. The equality code outlined in Articles 14, 15, and 16 of the Constitution is unaffected by the deletion or addition of these ideas. Applying the aforementioned standards to the current situation, none of the contested amendments, including the Constitution (Eighty-second Amendment Act of 2000), violate the fundamental design. Article 335’s constitutional restriction is loosened but not eliminated. The Constitution (Seventy-Seventh Amendment) Act of 1995, the Constitution (Eighty-First Amendment) Act of 2000, the Constitution (Eighty-Second Amendment) Act of 2000, and the Constitution (Eighty-Fifth Amendment) Act of 2001 were all affirmed by the Bench as being constitutional under the aforementioned conditions.


In the landmark judgement, the Supreme Court of India gave new depths and scope to amending powers, and limits and widened the scope of affirmative action in India. The constitutional validity that was upheld in this judgement will nudge the disadvantaged sections of society, and gain equal footing. 


M Nagaraj v. Union of India, 8 SCC 212-https://www.scconline.com/ 
M Nagaraj v. Union of India, 8 SCC 212- https://indiankanoon.org/doc/102852/ 

This analysis is written by Kavya Tiwari, Faculty of Law, University of Delhi, interning with LegalVidhya for June.


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