Batting for the downtrodden | The Hindu

2020-02-24 | 3 minutes

Context: The Supreme Court has recently ruled against an order of Uttarakhand High Court on quantifiable data showing the representation of SCs in services of state government.


  • Earlier, the Uttarakhand government has formed a committee to collect quantifiable data on reserved communities in Uttarakhand and their representation in government services under Article 16(4A).

  • In 2012, Uttarakhand government cancelled reservation for SCs and STs in government services. Uttarakhand High Court declared this decision of government illegal.

  • The court ordered the state government to collect quantifiable data on inadequate representation of SCs and STs in services of state and decide on their reservation in promotions.

  • The petition was filed against the decision of Uttarakhand High Court in the Supreme Court. Now, Supreme Court has given judgment against the ruling of Uttarakhand High Court.

Historical discrimination of SCs: Recent studies in Modernity of Slavery: Struggles Against Caste Inequality in Colonial Kerala show that untouchables were slave caste in ancient times. Slavery in India has continued for 2,500 years since its recognition by Manu in 200 BC to its banning by the British in 1843. Untouchables as slave caste continued to serve high castes. Untouchability and caste slavery have deprived SCs of land ownership, wealth, higher education and employment. They continue to be deprived of these basic needs and rights until today and face discrimination.

Status of SCs in contemporary society:

  • Land ownership: SCs own 5% agricultural land and 8% building assets in rural areas. In rural areas, high castes have 41% agricultural land and 39% building assets. In urban areas, SCs owned 6% land and 2.6% of buildings. But, high castes own 45% of total land and 76% of building.

  • Wealth: As per Census 2011, the share of SCs in the Indian population was nearly 17%. In 2013, their share in total wealth in India was only 5% in rural areas and 4% in urban areas.

  • Higher education: In 2015, the enrolment rate in higher education stood at 20% for SCs and 43% for higher castes.

  • Employment: Nearly 50% of Dalits were dependent on casual wage labour in 2014-15. But, only 11 % of higher castes were dependent on casual wage labour. NSS data-based studies show that SCs face discrimination in hiring also.

  • Poverty and Atrocities: Nearly 33 % of Dalits were poor in 2012. But, Only 11 % of high castes were poor. Nearly 54,257 atrocity cases were registered by SC between 2001 and 2013.

Analysis of Supreme Court’s Judgment: There are two elements in the judgment of Supreme Court against an earlier order given by Uttarakhand High Court. First element is that reservation in government job promotions is not a fundamental right. Second element of the judgment is that the state government cannot be directed to give reservation in government job promotions after they collect quantifiable data on inadequacy of representation of certain communities in government services. In other words, quantifiable data on inadequacy of representation is not required for giving reservation in government job promotions to backward communities.

Opinion on judgment of Supreme Court: Ruling of the Supreme Court allowing state government to give reservation without quantifiable data on the inadequacy of reservation in government job promotions does not take into consideration the status of Dalits in Uttarakhand. According to a survey carried out all over India by the National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER) and the University of Maryland, US, nearly 47% of participants from Uttarakhand said that they practice untouchability. As the study shows that a large number of people practice untouchability in Uttarakhand, and in such a situation, the executive branch of government may not be able to address the situation completely.


The judgment given by the Supreme Court does not take into account the status of SCs. In addition to discrimination in jobs, SCs face discrimination in land ownership, higher education, wealth and employment. After the judgment of the Supreme Court, it remains unclear how the interests of a historically discriminated community can be safeguarded without quantifiable data about the status of the community in contemporary society.

Mains Question:

Recently, the Supreme Court has ruled against Uttarakhand High Court’s order on quantifiable data about the status of SCs. Analyse the judgment of the Supreme Court in the context of status occupied by SCs in contemporary society. (200 words)

Article 16:

  • Under Article 16, Constitution of India guarantees all citizens
    equality of opportunity in matters of public employment.
  • Article 16 prohibits discrimination in public employment on
    seven different grounds.
  • These are religion, race, sex, caste, descent, and place of birth
    or residence.
  • However, place of residence can be prescribed as requirement
    for employment in state, UTs or other authorities. The authority
    to do so lies with Parliament of India.
  • State can give reservation in appointment to any backward
    class underrepresented in state services.