Indra Sawhney v. Union of India

Indra Sawhney v. Union of India

 (Mandal Commission Case)


By Thejaswini



Date of Judgement : 16th November, 1992

Equivalent Citation : AIR 1993 SC 477, 1992 Supp 2 SCR 454

Bench (9) : M H Kania, M Venkatachaliah, S R Pandian, Dr. T K Thommen, A M Ahmadi, Kuldip Singh, P B Sawant, R Sahai, B P Jeevan Reddy




  • To investigate the status of ‘Socially & Educationally Backward Classes (SEBCs)’ in 1979 the then Prime Minister, Sri Morarji Desai appointed a commission under the chairmanship of Sri B.P. Mandal.
  • In 1980 the report was submitted where 3743 SEBCs were identified.
  • 27% reservation in government employment was recommended for their upliftment.
  • But it couldn’t be implemented as due to the internal disturbances in the party, the government collapsed.
  • Later the Congress headed by Indira Gandhi came into power but they couldn’t implement it.
  • Later in 1989 elections the Janata Dal came into power.
  • Thus, in 1990 then Prime Minister P. Singh implemented it by issuing an office of memorandum.


After math of implementation 


  • Due to this implementation, riots broke out in the country & there was an anti-reservation movement that caused huge loss to life, property. Students aspiring for government employments started a string of self-immolation throughout the nation.
  • A writ petition was filed by the Bar Association of Supreme Court challenging the validity of this memorandum.
  • The case went for hearing before a 5 judge bench. It ordered a stay on implementation of the policy until final disposal. However, the Janta Dal government collapsed again and Congress came to power.
  • The then Prime Minister V. Narasimha Rao issued another memorandum that introduced 10% reservation on the basis of economic conditions that increased total reservation to 37%
  • Thus, the case was referred to ‘9-judge bench’ in the Supreme Court.


Issues raised


  • Whether ‘Article 16(4)’ supersedes ‘Article 16(1)’ ?
  • Whether the reservation could exceed 50% ?
  • Whether Backward Classes in ‘Article 16(4)’ are same as SEBC’s in ‘Article 15(4)’ ?
  • Whether Backward Classes can be identified with reference to economic criteria ?
  • Whether reservation could extend to promotions ?




  • It was held by a majority of ‘6:3’.
  • ‘Article 16(4)’ is not an exception but a part of ‘Article 16(1)’. Reservations can also be provided under 16 (1) itself.
  • In the reservation for Backward Class the creamy layer must be excluded. The creamy layer are not as similar as SEBCs in ‘Article 15(4)’.
  • ‘A Backward Class could be further divided into More Backward and Most Backward if the factors are such to justify it.
  • The ceiling of 50% is a binding rule and not a guideline.
  • There lies no reservations in promotions.
  • A Backward class can’t be identified only with reference to economic criteria.


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