Indra Sawhney vs. Union of India Case Summary 1992 SC

Indra Sawhney vs. Union of India Case Summary 1992 SC

Indra Sawhney vs. Union of India case gave the landmark judgement which dealt with the most lagging and sensitive issue of reservation for backward classes based on reports by Kelkar Commission and Mandal Commission.


DATE OF JUDGEMENT: 16th November 1992

BENCH: M.Kania, M. Venkatachaliah, S.R Pandian, T. Ahmadi, K. Singh P. Sawant, R. Sahai, B.J Reddy

RELEVANT PROVISIONS: Article 14 to Article 16 of the Constitution of India


  1. To accomplish equality and improve the condition of the socially backward class the government established the committee known as the Kelkar Commission which tried to classify the backward classes depending on various factors.
  2. But the report of the Kelkar Commission was found faulty and rejected. Thereafter the government set up another commission known as Mandal Commission.
  3. The report of the Mandal Commission was placed in Lok Sabha in two instances and after deliberation, it was accepted in parliament based on the report an Office Memorandum was issued which assigning reservations to backward classes in vacancies of the post of government services.
  4. This decision faced resistance, widespread protests, and disturbance in law and order was seen and many petitions were filed against the said memorandum.


The case dealt with many issues, most highlighted were-

  1. Whether provision under Article 16(4) be made only by Parliament?
  2. Whether any order of the executive in light of Article 16(4) is enforceable?
  3. Whether Article 16(4) is an exception to Article 16(1)?
  4. Whether Article 16(4) is exhaustive of the concept of reservation for backward classes?
  5. What is the meaning of backward classes?
  6. Whether we can subdivide backward classes?
  7. What is the extent of reservations which can be made?
  8. Whether reservation is applicable only till appointment or extends to promotions?


  1. After examining the case of Balaji v. The State of Mysore, and relevant Articles of the Constitution the bench opined that as per the Article 12 the definition of state includes the Government of India, Legislature, but also the local authorities like municipalities and panchayats and the words like rules, orders, bye-laws, regulation in Article 13 clarifies that they have the power to make the same.
  2. Any executive order under Article 73 of the Constitution of India is enforceable and the mere omission of words “in the name of or by order of President” does not affect the enforceability of an order.
  3. The bench relied on the decision of State of Kerela v. N.M Thomas which stated that Article 16(1) is a characteristic of the doctrine of equality embedded in Article 14 and shows itself as a reasonable classification instead of the exception.
  4. After examining various judicial pronouncements and relevant Articles the court opined that, in order to extract full benefits from the provision of reservation, any concession, exception, or preference to backward classes be considered as the reservation.
  5. After a lengthy discussion, the bench believed that Caste can be considered for detecting social class. If a class is backward socially, it would be considered a backward class for Article 16(4)”. Neither the Constitution nor any law provides any yardstick to identify who qualifies as a backward class and who does not.
  6. The court observed that if there are two backward classes and one class is far behind from the advanced class, then the backward class merely behind would take away all the seats.
  7. The court relied on the decision of Devadasan v. Union of India, where the court upheld a 50% cap on the reservation.
  8. The bench stated that reservation can be extended to the promotion and some relaxation can be provided to the reserved category but it should not affect the efficiency of administration in any manner therefore application of lesser qualifying marks of the lower level of evaluation which have effects on efficiency cannot be done.


  1. The executive has the power to make provisions in light of Article 16(4).
  2. Orders of executive made under Article 16(4) are enforceable.
  3. Article 16(4) is a classification and not an exception to Article 16(1).
  4. Article 16(4) is exhaustive of reservation of backward classes.
  5. Till any other criteria are found for identification, the caste can be used as a factor for the determination of backward classes it should be made sure and in all cases, the creamy layer is excluded from such.
  6. The court concluded that this sub-categorization if made will not be invalid in law.
  7. The reservation cannot be given beyond the 50% rule.
  8. Reservation can be extended to promotions but the efficiency of the administration should not be compromised.

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