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Janhit Abhiyan v/s Union Of India: The Landmark Judgment On EWS Reservations In India

Janhit Abhiyan is a landmark judgment that dealt with the issue of reservation of seats for the EWS [1] section. The 103rd Constitutional Amendment [2] created controversy in context with reservation for EWS. It is one of the crucial judgments in context with reservation. It was argued that it breaches the ceiling limit which was fixed in Indra Sawhney v. Union of India [3].

The ceiling limit that was fixed in this case was 50% and as it was held the ceiling limit cannot be extended to 50%. The judgment in Janhit Abhiyan vs Union of India upheld Indira Sawhney's verdict. This case deals with the Articles 15(6) and 16(6) of the Indian Constitution.

Brief Summary of Facts:
  1. On 7th January 2019, the Union Council of Ministers approved a 10% reservation in government jobs and educational institutions for the EWS in the General category.
  2. The 103rd amendment to the Indian Constitution was made on 9th January 2019 to enable the state to make reservations solely based on economic criteria.
  3. On 12th January 2019, the President of India gave assent and approved the amendment. Thus, the amendment came into effect on 14th January 2019.
  4. The 103rd Constitutional Amendment, 2019 amended Articles 15[4] and 16[5] by inserting clauses 15(6) and 16(6).
  5. The amendment was made to Article 15(6) of the Indian Constitution which provides reservations to EWS. It granted the weaker section admission seats to educational institutions including private educational institutions whether aided or unaided by the state.
  6. Article 16(6) is added to enable the state to include appointment reservations. In addition to the existing reservations, these provisions will once more be subject to a 10% ceiling.
  7. Since then, more than 20 petitions have been filed opposing the constitutional validity of the 103rd constitutional amendment. They argue that the amendment violates the basic structure of the constitution and also violates the fundamental right to equality under Article 14[6].
  8. The Supreme Court judgment in Indra Sawhney v. Union of India and Ors., 1992 it was held that the reservation limit should not exceed 50% and thus 103rd Amendment violates the equality code.
  9. The constitutional validity of the 103rd Amendment to the Indian Constitution was challenged on the grounds that it arbitrarily violates equality and alters the basic structure of the Constitution.
  1. Whether the 103rd Constitution Amendment can be said to breach the basic structure of the Constitution by permitting the State to make special provisions, including reservation, based on economic criteria?
  2. Whether the 103rd Constitution Amendment be said to breach the basic structure of the Constitution by permitting the State to make special provisions concerning admission to private unaided institutions?
  3. Whether the 103rd Constitution Amendment can be said to breach the basic structure of the Constitution in excluding the SEBCS/OBCs/SCS/STS from the scope of EWS reservation?
  4. Whether private colleges be forced to have reservations for the EWS quota?

Contentions Raised
By the Petitioner
  • The 50% reservation cap is being violated by the constitution's 103rd amendment of 2019. The reservation policy was included in the constitution with the aim of promoting an egalitarian society.
  • It was argued that the amended Act violated the Constitution's fundamental principles by attempting to include people who had never experienced social or educational disadvantage; and is violative of Article 14 as it discriminates on the basis of caste. And as a result, this amendment amounted to fraud of the Constitution as cited in the case of M.R. Balaji and Ors. v. State of Mysore and Ors.
  • Economic considerations cannot be the only justification for a reservation: As per the Supreme Court judgment in Indra Sawhney's case, it was observed that economic criteria cannot be the sole basis for granting a reservation.
  • In the State of Madras v. Champakam Dorairajan, the ratio of the decision of the Court in this case was that classification on the basis of religion, race, caste, language, or any of them was against the ethos of the Constitution.

By the Respondent
The respondents argue that the Amendment Act does not infringe, but rather strengthens fundamental Principles of the Constitution.
  1. As the 50% quota is already filled by other classes, the 10% reservation would not affect the 50% quota placed on the SEBC.
  2. The Attorney General of India, Mr. K.K Venugopal, argued that rather than wakening, the said amendment strengthens the Constitution's fundamental principles. Thus, the amended Act is not being violated.
  3. The Supreme Court has considered poverty as the primary criterion for determining backward class. For instance, cases such as M.R. Balaji; R. Chitralekha v. State of Mysore (plain text URL:; and Vasanth Kumar v. State of Karnataka,1985 (plain text URL:
  4. The ceiling limit that was set in Indra Sawhney does not violate the rights of SC, ST, OBC, and SEBC, because it is an addition to the existing 10% quota and therefore, does not go against their interests.
  5. The 50% ceiling limit can be breached in order to provide exceptional benefits to the needy.
  6. Article 368 gives the power to Parliament to amend the Constitutional provisions and not every time can be questioned.

Observation of the court
The Supreme Court observed that the provisions for providing reservation to the weaker section do not form a part of the basic feature of the constitution by way of affirmative action, as it is merely enabling in nature. The Supreme Court said that the exclusion of other classes in the EWS Reservation is not an abrogation of basic structure and the fundamental rights of the weaker section of society.

The SCS/STS/OBCS/SEBCs are already getting the benefit of affirmative action under Articles 15(4), 15(5), and 16(4), and have a certain quota earmarked for them in their favour. The additional reservation quota does not impact the existing quota. The Supreme Court judgment upholding 10% reservations has lifted all restrictions and opened the room for constitutional interpretation.

The bench of five, with a 3:2 majority, has upheld Indira Sawhney's judgment. The amendment was upheld by a 3:2 majority, with three judges supporting it (Justices Dinesh Maheshwari, Bela M Trivedi, and J.B. Pardiwala) and two judges opposing it (Justice Ravindra Bhat and Chief Justice U.U. Lalit). After hearing the case for a week, Justice Dinesh Maheshwari, Justice S. Ravindra Bhat for himself, and on behalf of the Chief Justice, Justice Bela M Trivedi, and Justice J.B. Pardiwala issued four separate judgments.

It was held that reservation for EWS has been decided up to 10% in addition to the 50% existing quota and it does not violate any basic structure of the Indian constitution as the ceiling limit itself is not inflexible and in any case applies only to the provisions envisioned in article 15(4), 15(5) and 16(4) of the constitution. While Justice Bhat, in a minority view, stated, "Our Constitution does not speak the language of exclusion. In my considered opinion, the amendment is the language of exclusion and violates the principle of justice, and thereby the basic structure."

The SC/ST and backward classes, for whom special provisions have already been made, form a separate category from the general or unreserved category and cannot be treated equally with citizens from the general or unreserved category. Article 16(4) does not provide an exhaustive interpretation of the concept of reservation as such, and thus it is not discriminatory to create a separate class of economically weaker sections as long as the reservation for backward classes is unaffected.

And regarding the question of application of EWS reservation in a private institution, the court referred the case of Pramati Educational and Cultural v Union of India, where the court held that the amendment shall be applicable to all private educational institutions whether aided or unaided, subject to the Articles 29 and 30 of the Constitution.

After understanding and analyzing the nuances of the 103rd amendment to the constitution, which introduces reservation to the economically weaker sections of the society under Articles 15(6) and 16(6), one may be able to deduce that India is still suffering from rampant poverty and needs strong measures to extend the social and economic benefit to every stratum of society. The state must ensure social mobility in order to lessen the chasm between the rich and poor so that a homogenous society may be created.

Reservations currently account for 49.5 % of all land in India. If the 10% additional reservation for EWS is included, the total is 59.5 %. Quotas of 7.5 %, 15%, and 27% are reserved for Scheduled Tribes, Scheduled Castes, and Other Backward Classes, respectively. If the EWS Quota Bill becomes law, only 40.5 % of seats in educational institutions/jobs will be allocated on the basis of the candidate's merit.

As the Supreme Court has pointed out, an increase in reservations can jeopardize merit. The 10% quota is progressive and could address issues of educational and income inequality in India, where economically disadvantaged citizens have been barred from attending higher education institutions and public employment due to financial inability.

  1. EWS: Economically Weaker Section
  2. The Constitution (One Hundred and Third Amendment) Act, 2019 last accessed on 24/03/2024
  3. AIR 1993 SC 477
  4. Article 15. Prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex, or place of birth.
  5. Article 16. Equality of opportunity in matters of public employment.
  6. Article 14. Equality before law.
  7. 1963 AIR 649, 1962 SCR Supl. (1) 439
  8. AIR 1951 SC 226
  9. 1964 AIR 1823, 1964 SCR (6) 368
  10. 1985 AIR 1495

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