Right to Equality is one of the basic fundamental rights that the constitution of India guarantees to all the citizens of the country. Article 16 deals with the equality of opportunity in matters of public employment. Equal opportunity is a term which has differing definitions and there is no consensus as to the precise meaning. The Constitution of India has given a wide interpretation of this article. Article 16 is an instance of the application of the general rule with special reference to the opportunity of appointments under the State.
It says that there shall be equality of opportunity for all citizens in matters relating to employment or appointment to any office under the State. In matters of employment also, it is impossible to treat all persons alike. Equality only means equal treatment to equals. A reasonable classification is not prohibited by Article 16. It empowers Parliament to make a law prescribing any requirement as to residence within that state or UT prior to employment or appointment in that state or UT. It empowers the state to make special provisions for the reservation of appointments or posts in favor of any backward classes of citizens.
MEANING OF ARTICLE 16 DEFINED IN INDIAN CONSTITUTION
Article 16 in The Constitution Of India 1949
16. Equality of opportunity in matters of public employment
(1) There shall be equality of opportunity for all citizens in matters relating to employment or appointment to any office under the State
(2) No citizen shall, on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, descent, place of birth, residence or any of them, be ineligible for, or discriminated against in respect or, any employment or office under the State
(3) Nothing in this article shall prevent Parliament from making any law prescribing, in regard to a class or classes of employment or appointment to an office under the Government of, or any local or other authority within, a State or Union territory, any requirement as to residence within that State or Union territory prior to such employment or appointment
(4) Nothing in this article shall prevent the State from making any provision for the reservation of appointments or posts in favor of any backward class of citizens which, in the opinion of the State, is not adequately represented in the services under the State
(5) Nothing in this article shall affect the operation of any law which provides that the incumbent of an office in connection with the affairs of any religious or denominational institution or any member of the governing body thereof shall be a person professing a particular religion or belonging to a particular denomination
CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT RELATED TO ARTICLE 16
The Constitution 77th Amendment Act 1995
According to this Act, the Government has decided to continue the existing policy of reservation in promotion for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.
The Constitution 81st Amendment Act, 2000
It provides that the unfilled vacancies of a year reserved for SC/ST kept for being filled up in a year as per Article 16, shall be considered separately for filling vacancies in the succeeding year and the previous list will not be considered for filling the 50% quota of the respective year.
The Constitution 85th Amendment Act,2002
In 2001, Parliament approved Constitution 85th Amendment Act , permitting promotions with consequential seniority to government service with a view to give effect to the 85th Amendment to the Constitution
The Constitution 103rd Amendment Act, 2019
The 103rd amendment act provides for reservation of jobs in central government jobs as well as government educational institutions. It is also applicable on admissions to private higher educational institutions. It applies to citizens belonging to the economically weaker sections of any sect of society.
SUPREME COURT OBSERVATION ON ARTICLE 16
The Supreme Court ruled that the judgment in the case of M. Nagraj v. Union of India , relating to reservations for SCs and STs in promotions, need not be referred to a larger bench for consideration.
Center had claimed that there was a need to review the M Nagaraj verdict of 2006 stating that the judgment had virtually stopped promotions by putting criteria like backwardness, inadequate representation and overall administrative efficiency.
Various States had challenged the Nagaraj verdict stating that the criteria for reservation in promotion for SC/ST employees laid down in it was proving to be a hurdle to filling up lakhs of vacancies in different government departments spread across various States.
So, the correctness of interpretation given by Nagaraj decision was referred to the Constitution Bench for reconsideration during November 2017.
Indra Sawhney & Others vs Union of India, 1992: The judgment on Indra Sawhney case was passed on 16 November, 1992.
It was a nine-judge verdict which decisively laid down several landmark propositions such as 50% threshold in reservations.
It said, ”Reservation being an extreme form of protective measure should be confined to a minority of seats even though the constitution does not lay down any specific bar, the principle of balancing equality; reservation of any manner shall not exceed 50%”.
The concept of ‘creamy layer’ also gained importance through this judgment and provision that reservation for backward classes should be confined to initial appointments only and not extend to promotions.
Earlier, the reservation was meant to be only for SCs and STs. It was the Mandal Commission case that brought Other Backward Classes (OBCs) under reserved category.
Article 16 assumes extreme importance in a social context. It stretches the application of article 14 into the sphere of public employment explicitly and ensures fairness in another wing of State’s functions. Due to its role, it becomes important to understand the nuances of the same as also mentioned in this article.
Article 16 of the constitution guarantees every citizen the right to equality in public employment. This states that there shall be no discrimination on the basis of caste, sex, gender etc. However, it also empowered the state to take affirmative actions in the form of the reservation to ensure the adequate representation of backward categories of society.
Further, Article 16(4) empowered the government to make reservations with a maximum limit of 50%. The legislature has also made provision for the reservation in promotion and reservation for the economically backward class of the society.
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