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Article 16 of Indian Constitution

Posted by Admin on December 1, 2014 | Comment

Though ‘reservation’ is an unpleasant word in contemporary Indian politics, yet architects of the Constitution had used it as a social empowerment tool for the backward classes to help them get their due place in the society and be at par with the non-backward classes. Article 16 of the Constitution is one such provision that tends to strengthen the nation’s claim of maintaining an egalitarian society.

Article 16 of Indian Constitution


Meaning and Purpose of Article 16

The Article guarantees equality of opportunity when it comes to public employment. The first two clauses of the Article elucidate the fact that no citizens of India shall face discrimination in respect of employment. These two clauses lay the foundation for equal employment opportunity and eliminate compartmentalisation in the name of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth, or any other.

As one of the important constitutional provisions for deprived sections, Article 16 gives Parliament the power to make any law prescribing the requirements “for a class or classes of employment or appointment to an office under the Central Government or any local authority.” Clause 4 of the Article acts as a guideline for the government for making any provision for the reservation of appointments in favour of any backward class of citizens who are “not adequately represented in the services under the State.”

Like Article 14, 15 and 17, this article and its provisions indicate the government’s commitment to protect the interests of the SCs and STs.

Constitutional Amendments to Article 16

The six-year time frame between 1995 and 2001 witnessed a couple of amendments to Article 16. The 77th and 81st amendments are considered as technical amendments to protect reservation to SC/ST employees in promotions and in filling backlog of vacancies.”

It was through the 85th amendment of the Constitution that Article 16 (4A) was inserted and amended to give state the power “to provide quota in promotions with consequential seniority.” The clause 4A was inserted after the Supreme Court observed that the reservation of appointments/posts under Article 16(4) is restricted to initial appointment and it cannot extend to reservation in the matter of promotion.

While upholding the insertion of clause 4A, the Supreme Court imposed a condition – every time a government wants to exercise its power under Article 16(4A), “it must take up a specific exercise to demonstrate that the SCs/STs were not adequately represented.”

Confusion over Implementation of Article 16

As the Supreme Court verdict made it compulsory for the government to demonstrate the backwardness of SC/ST beneficiaries every time reservations were provided for promotion, it took another stand, which was heavily criticised for lacking constitutional merit. In its judgement, the apex court had observed that individuals “in the ‘creamy layer’ of OBCs” don’t have the right to be the beneficiaries of the reservation policy. However, the court held that no such exclusion would be applicable for SCs/STs.

This difference in treatment is completely in contrast to the constitutional position that the SCs/STs “are deemed to be backward and there cannot be a further determination of ‘backwardness’ among them.” The 117th Constitution Amendment Bill tried to eliminate this confusion and clarify that all SCs/STs are deemed to be backward.