• Janhit Abhiyan vs Union of India (WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) NO. 55 OF 2019)

Judgment dated- 

  •  September 27, 2022


Reservation policies have been a controversial topic in India for a long time. The purpose of these policies was to provide opportunities to the underprivileged sections of society who had been historically marginalized due to social inequality or their lower socioeconomic status. The government was granted the authority to create quotas for Scheduled Tribes, Scheduled Castes, and Other Backward Classes by the First Amendment. Over the years, opinions on reservations have been divided. Recently, the 103rd Amendment was ratified, which added 10% of the economically weaker sections of the upper caste, also known as EWS, to the existing reservation system. However, this increase takes the total reservation percentage above the 50% limit set by the Supreme Court in the Indra Sawhney v. Union of India case. The Supreme Court has recently upheld the EWS Quota, ruling that it does not violate the Constitution’s fundamental principles and that the 50% limit is “not inflexible” and can accommodate the additional 10% reservation.

Jandit Abhiyan is a landmark judgment that reviewed and dealt with the issue of reservation of seats for economically weaker sections of society in education and employment. A five-bench constitutional bench of the Supreme Court heard this case in 2022, putting the debate on the matter to rest. 

Background of the case-

In 2019, the Constitution (One Hundred and Third Amendment) Act was passed in India allowing the state to make reservations in higher education and public employment based solely on economic criteria. The amendment added 15(6) and 16(6) to Articles 15 and 16 of the Constitution and received presidential assent on January 12th, 2019. 

The Amendment under Article 15(6) allows the State to provide special provisions for economically weaker sections, including reservations in educational institutions. Reservations can be made in any institution, except minority institutions, up to a limit of 10% of seats.

Article 16(6) enables the State to make provisions for reservation in appointments. Again, these provisions will be subject to a 10% ceiling, in addition to the existing reservations. 

More than 20 petitions have been filed challenging the constitutional validity of the 103rd Amendment. They argue that the Amendment violates the basic features of the Constitution and violates the fundamental right to equality under Article 14. 

Facts and Details of the Case-

  1. Details of the case

The Janhit Abhiyan case was listed as Writ Petition (Civil) No. 55 of 2019 [WP (C) 55/2019] on September 8, 2022. These petitions challenged the Amendment Act, which allowed for a 10% reservation for the EWS category in education and employment. 

  • Supreme Court Bench 

            The Bench comprised of the following:

  1. Former Chief Justice of India- Justice Uday Umesh Lalit,
  2. Justice S. Ravindra Bhat,
  3. Justice Dinesh Maheshwari,
  4. Justice Bela M. Trivedi,
  5. Justice J.B. Pardiwala.
  • Parties involved
  • Petitioners

The petitioners in this case were Janhit Abhiyan Akhil Bhartiya Kushwaha Mahasabha, the Peoples Party of India, the SC/ST Agricultural Research and Education Employees Welfare Association, and Youth for Equality.

  • Advocates for Petitioners

The petitioners were represented by Advocates Gopal Sankaranarayana, Meenakshi Arora, Rajeev Dhawan, and MN Rao.

  • Respondents

The respondents in this case were the Union of India, the State of Maharashtra, the Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions, and the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment.

  • Advocates for Respondents

The respondents were represented by the Attorney General of India, KK Venugopal and the Solicitor General of India, Tushar Mehta.

  1. Facts of the Case-

The Government of India has recently taken a commendable initiative by passing the 103rd Constitutional Amendment Act, 2019. This constitutional amendment introduced a 10% reservation quota for economically disadvantaged communities in India. This amendment added two new parts to the Constitution, specifically Article 15(6) in Article 15 and Article 16(6) in Article 16. The reservation clause applies to both government and private institutions, with the exception of minority institutes as stated in Article 30(1) of the Indian Constitution. The implementation of the 10% reserve requirement has increased the overall number of seats by 10% without altering the distribution of seats among government employment and educational institutions.However, this has sparked a constitutional debate on whether the state has the right to establish new standards for reserving residents from economically disadvantaged areas. The Supreme Court is currently hearing around twenty petitions challenging the validity of the constitutional amendment.

The 103rd amendment to the Indian Constitution introduced a new clause 6 with an explanation added to Article 15, and clause 6 added to Article 16. This amendment provided a maximum of ten percent reservation for the “economically weaker sections” (EWS) of citizens, excluding “Scheduled Castes,” “Scheduled Tribes,” and the non-creamy layer of “Other Backward Classes” in educational institutions and jobs. The new reservation system offers reservation to individuals who belong to the general category but are economically weak. A person’s eligibility for the EWS category reservation is based on his or her and their family’s annual income, which should not exceed ₹8 lakh.

Subsequently, several writ petitions were filed before the Court contending that the reservation was violative of the Constitution’s basic structure as it went against the principles of non-discrimination and equal rights for all citizens.


     The issues faced by the Apex court are

  • Whether the 103rd amendment is violative of the basic structure for providing reservation solely based on economic criteria.
  • Whether the amendment is violative of the basic structure for excluding the poor among the SC/ST/OBC. Excluded someone who already had a reservation(SC/ST/OBC).
  • Whether this would cross the 50% ceiling of the so-called ceiling on the reservation that was established in past cases, whether the amendment is violative of breaching the 50% ceiling limit.


  1. Arguments by petitioners- 
  1. The petitioners argued that the Amendment Act was against the Constitution’s ‘basic structure’ and unjustly favoured the privileged sections of society. They cited the Constituent Assembly Debates, which showed that reservations were intended to uplift socially stigmatized and educationally backward classes, not as a self-perpetuating mechanism for the forward class.
  2. The Supreme Court’s ruling on the 103rd Amendment determined that it had exceeded the 50% reservation limit. The Court emphasized that this limit could only be surpassed in rare instances, which was not the case here. The petitioner argued that the Amendment created a monopoly that contradicted the idea of reservation. This ruling opens the door to a constructive dialogue about how to implement reservations in a way that is fair and equitable for all.
  3.  Acclaimed Academician Prof. Dr. Mohan Gopal argued that the EWS quota turned reservation from representation for disadvantaged groups to a financial upliftment scheme. The arguments were continued by Senior Adv. Meenakshi Arora stated that the 103rd Amendment violated the equality code i.e. Articles 14,15 and 16 in the Constitution erased the principle of reparative justice. She also argued that it was ultra vires the Constitution.
  4. The concept of reservation was initially introduced to uplift and acknowledge the historical injustice faced by individuals from backward groups due to social and cultural reasons. However, some people argue that introducing an economic criterion would devalue this vision as it might provide benefits to those who have not experienced social disadvantages. This goes against the original idea of the Constitution. The petitioners referred to various Supreme Court decisions, including Indra Sawhney v. UOI (1992), Dayaram Khemkaran Verma v. State of Gujarat (2016), and State of Kerala v. N.M. Thomas (1976) to support their argument that reservations and special provisions can mitigate inequalities and ensure social justice and equality of opportunity. Additionally, they claimed that the clauses in Articles 15(6) and 16(6) overrode the precondition of being socially and educationally backward. However, it is worth noting that the Constitution only recognizes social and educational backwardness as a criterion for reservation. The Supreme Court has also clarified that economic criteria cannot be the sole basis for reservation under Article 16.
  5. It was brought to attention that the 103rd Amendment Act, which aims to provide reservation for the economically weaker sections, may not be inclusive enough as it excludes certain sections such as the SCs, STs, and OBCs. It was suggested that this may pose a challenge to the fundamental right to equality and may not align with the Constitution’s basic structure and the rule of ejusdem generis. Further discussions and considerations are needed to ensure that the act is fair and inclusive for all.
  6. The argument put forth by the counsel was that the Amendment did not take into account a complex economic situation, but instead focused solely on financial inability, which is a temporary condition and could be seen as promoting poor financial practices. Hence, it cannot be considered a dependable basis for providing reservations.
  1. Argument by the Respondents-
  1. The Attorney General of India argued before the Court that the Amendment Act did not violate the basic structure of the Constitution. Instead, it fostered it by excluding certain classes that were already covered under Articles 15(4) and 16(4). He stated that this did not go against the Equality Code. He also stated that the amendment actually strengthens the foundational ideas of the Constitution, rather than weakening them. The respondents have argued for a flexible interpretation of the Constitution by citing Directive Principles of State Policy Articles 38 and 46. They are confident that the amendment aligns with these fundamental goals of societal fairness, which require the state to take proactive steps towards eliminating various inequities. These provisions provide strong evidence that the amendment reinforces the constitutional principles.
  2. It is further argued that poverty is what causes social and educational backwardness, and the aforementioned amendment attempts to remedy this inconsistency by defining a group of people who are in fact socially and educationally disadvantaged because of the  economic  inequality  they  experience  in  society.  As  a  result,  the  Parliament  is authorized to enact such an enabling provision that lessens economic inequality in the community.
  3. It was further argued that changing the constitution should only happen if certain specific conditions are met. He said that the Constitution has acknowledged different areas of affirmative action, which means that it’s possible to allocate resources according to the specific needs of each group in society. Therefore, Parliament has the power to protect its citizens and promote the goal of economic justice outlined in the Preamble.
  1. The respondents’ counsel argued that the EWS Reservation didn’t violate any prior reservation granted to SCs, STs, and OBCs. The government has implemented proactive measures to provide upliftment and support to the Schedule Casts (SCs), Schedule Tribes (STs), and Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBCs) by collectively providing them with a reservation. The total percentage of reservations stands at 49.5%, which reflects the government’s commitment to creating an equitable society. Although the Mandal Commission case has established a ceiling of 50% for reservations, it also permitted exceptional circumstances where this limit can be surpassed. In the present situation, the state has established new criteria to ensure that the underprivileged communities receive the necessary support and upliftment they deserve. Therefore, this situation should be deemed an exceptional circumstance, and the government’s efforts toward creating a fair and inclusive society should be commended.
  2. Judgment- 

On November 7th, 2022, the Supreme Court made a significant decision with a majority of three to two. They ruled that the 103rd Amendment Act of 2019 is valid. This means that individuals who are economically weaker can now also gain access to jobs and educational institutions. Justice Dinesh Maheshwari stated that this new act does not violate important constitutional values of the country. He also emphasized that the 50% reservation rule for certain groups does not apply to individuals who are economically weaker.

  • Judgement by Majority

As per Justices Maheshwari, B.M. Trivedi, and Pardiwala, the petitions challenging the Act were liable to be dismissed. They found that the Act could not be considered to violate any fundamental principles of the Constitution and did not violate the basic structure doctrine.

Justice Pardiwala believes that denying education and employment opportunities to the economically disadvantaged is unfair. He suggests that members who have attained quality education and employment from disadvantaged classes should be excluded from the backward category quotas so that others can benefit. Justice Pardiwala highlights the need to identify and distinguish between different members of backward classes to ensure that the classification of disadvantaged sections remains relevant. The reservation system has continued for over seven decades despite B.R. Ambedkar envisioning social equality within ten years of its implementation.

Hon. Justice Bela M. Trivedi emphasized the importance of the Statements of Arguments and Justifications for the Constitution’s (One Hundred and Third Amendment) Bill, which unambiguously supports the ratio decided by the Hon. Supreme Court. It is important to remember that a significant fraction of the economically disadvantaged (EWS) have been denied access to quality education owing to budgetary constraints. Such people lack the financial wherewithal to pursue higher education or qualify for reservations. As a result, the Constitution has been adequately changed to meet this concern.

The Supreme Court of India has held “Economic Disabilities or Economic Backwardness Criterion” as a valid criterion for reservation. The Constitution of India sanctions this reservation to tackle hardships arising from economic disadvantages. The Constitution’s equality clause embodies the concept of real and ‘substantive equality’. The Preamble’s goal is to secure justice for all citizens, including social, economic, and political justice.

  • Opinion of CJI U.U.Lalit and Justice Bhat

Chief Justice U.U. Lalit and Justice. Bhat had differing opinions on the constitutionality of an Act. Justice Bhat expressed a profound disagreement with the majority’s interpretation of “economic factors” as a basis for Article 15 reservations in public employment and questioned the validity of this position. In support of his argument, he cited the Indra Sawhney case, emphasizing that reservations should not be granted solely for financial reasons. However, the Supreme Court’s verdict did not explicitly prohibit reservations based on financial factors. This ruling highlights the differing opinions of the Supreme Court regarding the inclusion of economic factors in reserve criteria. While the majority believed that economic inequality is a legitimate category and the 50% maximum is flexible, hence EWS reservations should be included, the opposing viewpoint emphasized the importance of preserving reservations’ original purpose, which was to base them on the social backwardness rather than just economic status. The verdict opens up room for further discussions and possibly future clarifications on the limits of the quota policy with regard to economic considerations within the Indian constitutional framework. 

Imp judgements referred-

  • Indra Sawhney V. Union of India and others(1992)

Indra Sawhney v. UOI (1992)

  • M.R. Balaji and Others v. State of Mysore (1962)

 M.R. Balaji and Ors v. State of Mysore (1962)


Reservation policies have been a topic of discussion in India for a long time. These policies were introduced to ensure equal representation of socially excluded groups like SC, ST, SEBC, and OBC in employment and education. Although the intention behind these policies is noble, the effectiveness and fairness of their implementation have been a source of debate. There have been concerns about the system being unjust towards individuals of higher castes who are not equally wealthy. Given the changing socioeconomic conditions of Indian society, it is important to review and modify the reservation policies to promote fairness and inclusivity for all.

The “reservations” policies in India are designed to provide assistance to underprivileged individuals. These policies have been in place since the adoption of India’s Constitution after independence. Critics argue that these policies primarily benefit affluent individuals who have access to better education, while neglecting other marginalized groups. It has been observed that these policies have not been successful in uplifting those who are most in need of support. Often, the people who are already rich and have access to good education are the ones who benefit the most from these rules.

Although reservation laws have enabled disadvantaged groups to access government jobs and educational institutions, they have been criticized for potentially compromising the quality of labor and education standards. Opponents argue that such policies may aggravate social divisions and lead to resentment, ultimately impeding overall progress and development.


The 103rd amendment to the Indian constitution introduced reservations for economically weaker sections under Articles 15(6) and 16(6). This decision reflects the need for social and economic equality in India. The Supreme Court has interpreted the amendment to fulfil the goal of economic justice for all, while some judges see it as an effort to provide reparations to historically discriminated castes. Both economic and social backwardness must be addressed together for the greater good of society.

Name: Pankaj Bhatt
College name: Bharati Vidyapeeth Deemed University