Article 15 of the Constitution of India

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Written by: Ms Kajal Kumari

Introduction:

Article 15 of the Constitution of India deals with the prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion race, caste, sex, or place of birth. The word ‘discrimination’ means to make an adverse distinction or to distinguish unfavorably from others. The word ‘only’ used in Article 15(1) of the Constitution of India indicates that discrimination can not be made merely on the stated grounds. In other words, if other qualifications are equal to caste, religion, race, sex, etc. should not be a ground for disability or preference.

Clause 1 of  Article 15 prohibits discrimination by the State, Clause 2 of  Article 15 prohibits both the State and private individuals from making any discrimination. As per the mandate in Article 15(3) women and children require special treatment. One of such provisions can be found in Article 42 of the Constitution of India. Thus, under Article 42 women workers can be given maternity relief and a law to this effect will not infringe Article 15(1). Article 15(3) is one of the exceptions to the general rule laid down in clauses 1 and 2 of Article 15.

Cases related to Article of the Constitution of India:

In-State of Madras v. Champakam Durai Rajan, 1951, the Madras Government reserved seats in Medical and Engineering Colleges, on the basis of religion, race, and caste. It was contended on behalf of the State that provision was made to promote social justice for all sections of the people. As per the mandate of Article 46 rejecting the contention, the Honourable Supreme Court held the law as void as it classified students on the basis of caste and religion irrespective of Merit. The Court also held that the Directive Principle of State Policies can not override the Fundamental Rights.

In order to overcome the verdict in the Champakam Durai Rajan case, the Parliament brought in the First Amendment Act, 1951 and inserted clause 4 to Article 15. The provisions of this clause are in the nature of an enabling provision (allows, felicitate) and do not impose any obligation on the State to take any special action under it. It merely confers discretion to act if necessary by way of making special provision for socially and educationally backward class and Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.

The Government also constituted the First Backward Classes Commission in 1953 under the chairmanship of Kaka Kalelkar. The Commission submitted its report in 1959 and identified 2399 castes as backward, on the ground of education, participation in public sector employment, trade, and occupation, and most significantly their places in the Traditional Hindu Caste System. Its recommendation never saw the light of the day.

In Balaji v. State of Mysore, 1963, the Government of Mysore reserved seats in Medical and Engineering Colleges, 28% for Backward Classes, 20% for More Backward Classes, 18% for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. Thus, 66% of seats in colleges were reserved.

The Order was struck down by the Court, it was held that classifications made between ‘Backward Classes’ and ‘More Backward Classes’ was not justified under Article 15(4) of the Constitution of India. ‘Backwardness’ as envisaged (laid down) by Article 15(4) must be both social and educational. It was also held that though a caste may be a relevant factor it can not be the sole test for ascertaining whether a particular class is backward or not. Poverty, occupation, place of habitation may all be the relevant factors to determine backwardness.

In-State of Uttar Pradesh v. Pradeep Tandon, 1975, the Government of Uttar Pradesh made a reservation of seats for admission to Medical Colleges in the seats in favor of candidates coming from rural areas, Uttarakhand areas.

The Honourable Supreme Court held that reservation in favor of candidates coming from rural areas was unconstitutional but reservation in favor of candidates coming from hill and Uttarakhand areas was valid. The hill and Uttarakhand areas in Uttar Pradesh are instances of socially and backward classes of citizens. From an economic point of view, the classes of citizens are considered backward when they are not able to make effective use of the resources when large areas of land remain sparse. Abandonment people in hill areas and Uttarakhand might lack adequate educational facilities as the said areas could be inaccessible. ‘Rural areas’ can not be a homogeneous class by itself, all people residing in such areas are not of the same kind, their occupation could be different, the population can not be a class by itself.

Conclusion:

Clause 5 of Article 15 of the Constitution of India was inserted by 93rd Amendment Act, 2005 with effect from 20th January 2006. After the Constitution 93rd Amendment Act, 2005, Parliament passed the Central Educational Institution (Reservation in Admission) Act, 2006. Section 3 of this Act provides for reservation of 15% seats for Scheduled Castes, 7.5% for Scheduled Tribes and 27% for Other Backward Classes in Central Educational Institutions i.e. Universities established or incorporated by or under Central Acts, Institutions of National Importance set up Acts of Parliament, Deemed Universities under University Grants Commission Act, Institutions maintained or receiving aid from Central Government, Educational Institution set up by Central Government under Societies Registration Act, 1860.

The constitutional validity of the 93rd Amendment Act was challenged before a bench of 5 judges in Ashoka Kunwar Thakur v. Union of India, 2008, on the ground that it was contrary to the basic structure of the Constitution because the thrust of our Constitution was to establish a casteless society. Upholding the validity of the Act by a majority of 4:1, the Court held that it was valid to the extent that it permitted Reservation for Socially and Backward Classes in State (or State-aided) Educational Institution with the exclusion of creamy layer from amongst the Other Backward Classes.

Clause 6 of Article 15 was inserted by the 103rd Constitutional Amendment Act, 2019 with effect from 12th January 2019. Under Article 15(6) of the Constitution of India, States are allowed to make any special provision for the advancement of any economically weaker section of citizens other than the classes mentioned in clauses 4 and 5 of Article 15 of the Constitution of India.


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