Constitutional Law

The Evolution of Reservations in India: From the Champakam Case to the EWS Judgement

Evolution of Reservation in India

 Kanishka Singh, a 5th-year law student from MIT World Peace University has written this article on “The Evolution of Reservations in India: From the Champakam Case to the EWS Judgement”.


With the goal of redressing historical wrongs and advancing social equality, India’s reservation system has served as a pillar of affirmative action. The Champakam Dorairajan case, which occurred in the 1950s, served as the starting point for a number of legal and legislative developments that would later shape India’s reservation policy. From that point on, reservations in India have evolved over time. In this article, the evolution of reservations in India is examined, tracing the key turning points from the Champakam case to the historic EWS (Economically Weaker Sections) judgment.

The Champakam Dorairajan Case (1951)[1]: The Genesis of Reservations

Many people consider the 1951 Champakam Dorairajan case to be the beginning of the evolution of reservations in India. The affirmative action policies of India were significantly shaped by this precedent-setting case. It also laid the groundwork for the current reservation system. The case and its significance are examined in more detail below:


  • One of the most important issues in the early years of India’s independence (after 1947) was dealing with historical injustices and discrimination based on caste and community.
  • In this situation, Chief Minister Kumaraswamy Kamaraj-led Madras State government implemented a reservation policy for educational institutions.
  • Based on caste and social standing, this policy assigned a certain number of seats in government-sponsored educational institutions. Such as medical and engineering colleges, to various communities.
  • This policy’s main objective was to give historically underserved and marginalized communities better access to educational opportunities and social upliftment opportunities.

The Legal Issue:

  • Brahmin community member Champakam Dorairajan appealed the Madras State government’s reservation policy to the Indian Supreme Court.
  • She claimed that the policy went against Article 15 of the Indian Constitution, which guarantees everyone the right to equality.
  • Article 15 of the Constitution forbids discrimination based on religion, race, caste, sex, or place of birth. Moreover, it ensures that every citizen will receive equal legal protection.

Judgment of the Supreme Court:

  • The Supreme Court’s seven-judge panel, presided over by Chief Justice Harilal J. Kania, heard the case.
  • The Supreme Court ruled that the Madras government’s reservation policy was indeed discriminatory in its 1951 ruling.
  • The court determined that the policy, which assigned seats solely based on caste, violated the Article 15 guarantee of equality.
  • The Madras Reservation Policy was overturned in this historic decision, which also emphasized the idea of equality before the law.

Impact and Consequences:

  • There were significant ramifications from the Champakam Dorairajan case. By establishing the rule that caste-based reservations alone were unconstitutional, it established a precedent.
  • The Indian government introduced the First Amendment to the Constitution in 1951 in response to this ruling.
  • Articles 15(4) and 16(4), which explicitly permit the state to make special provisions for the advancement of socially and educationally underprivileged classes, were introduced into the Constitution by the First Amendment.
  • The reservation system that would be implemented in India would have a legal foundation thanks to these amendments. It also made sure that it wasn’t just caste-based but also worked to improve underprivileged groups of society.

In conclusion, this case served as the catalyst for the development of India’s affirmative action laws and reservation system. Although the original reservation scheme was overturned, it sparked constitutional reforms that prepared the way for a more inclusive and equitable approach to reserves. Furthermore, it addresses the socioeconomic imbalances that have dogged India for centuries. This case was a significant step towards achieving social justice and equitable opportunities for all citizens, irrespective of their caste.

The First Amendment to the Constitution (1951): Legal Response to Champakam Case

After the Supreme Court’s decision in the Champakam case, the First Amendment to the Indian Constitution was passed in 1951. Due to the Champakam case’s legal implications and to create a framework for the execution of reservation laws. This amendment made significant revisions to the Indian Constitution. Let’s examine the First Amendment’s legal defense in more detail:

Introduction of Articles 15(4) and 16(4):

  • The main goal of the First Amendment was to overturn the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Champakam case. It had ruled that the Madras State government’s reservation policy was unconstitutional.
  • Two additional articles, Article 15(4) and Article 16(4), were added to the Constitution in order to accomplish this.
  • The state was permitted to make exceptional arrangements under Article 15(4) for the advancement of socially and educationally disadvantaged classes. It was made clear that these clauses would not be viewed negatively under Article 15. It forbids discrimination on the basis of race, religion, caste, sex, or place of birth.
  • The state was similarly permitted to make reservations for these same underprivileged sections in government jobs under Article 16(4).

Expanding the Scope of Reservation:

  • The introduction of these provisions broadened India’s reservation laws. It permitted the government to give traditionally underprivileged communities preferential treatment in both education and employment within the public sector.
  • These clauses established the legal framework for a reservation policy that was more inclusive and comprehensive, going beyond caste-based considerations to take into account a variety of factors causing social and educational backwardness.

Protection of Existing Laws:

  • The First Amendment also contained protections for current laws that established quotas or reservations for particular groups of people.
  • This made sure that the Champakam decision would not invalidate the individual states’ current reservation systems. It predates the Indian Constitution.

Balancing Individual Rights and Group Rights:

  • The First Amendment was a crucial step in achieving a balance between the more general objectives of social justice and the upliftment of historically marginalized groups and the individual rights of citizens, as protected by Article 15.
  • It acknowledged that in some situations, temporary preferential treatment was required to eliminate long-standing injustices and advance equality in the long run.

Impact and Significance:

  • The First Amendment to the Indian Constitution marked a crucial turning point in the development of the nation’s reservation system.
  • The subsequent establishment of quota laws for SC, ST, Other Backward Classes, and later, Economically Weaker Sections (EWS), was made possible by this.
  • This legal response made it possible for affirmative action policies to be implemented successfully, redressing previous wrongs and advancing social equality.

The Champakam Dorairajan case directly influenced the 1951 addition of the First Amendment to the Indian Constitution. In doing so, it created Articles 15(4) and 16(4), giving constitutional legitimacy to reservation measures and opening the door to the creation of a more thorough and inclusive quota system in India. The affirmative action policies of India were significantly shaped by this amendment. It also had a long-lasting effect on the nation’s attempts to promote social justice and equality.

Mandal Commission (1980): A Landmark Recommendation

The Mandal Commission, also referred to as the “Socially and Educationally Backward Classes Commission,” was a trailblazing project that significantly influenced India’s reservation policy and affirmative action practices. The commission was established in 1979, and after its findings were made public in 1980, India’s approach to the problem of social inequality and backwardness underwent a dramatic shift. An outline of the Mandal Commission’s key recommendations is provided below:


  • Until the late 1970s, the SCs and STs were the main beneficiaries of India’s reservation policy.
  • However, there was a rising awareness of the need to address the social and educational disadvantage of other disadvantaged people, particularly the Other Backward Classes (OBCs).
    • To identify these socially and educationally underprivileged sections and recommend steps for their progress, the Mandal Commission was established under the presidency of B.P. Mandal, a former Chief Minister of Bihar.

Key Recommendations:

  • 27% Reservation for OBCs: The Mandal Commission’s most important recommendation was to reserve 27% of seats in educational institutions (including universities and colleges) and government positions for members of Other Backward Classes (OBCs). This suggestion sought to give previously underserved OBC populations better access to educational and career possibilities.
  • Identification of OBCs: The commission conducted a thorough investigation and survey to determine the OBCs in India. Based on their degree of social and educational backwardness, it divided the OBCs into three categories: “Less Backward,” “Backward,” and “More Backward.”
  • Creamy Layer Exclusion: The Mandal Commission suggested that the OBCs’ “creamy layer” not be eligible for quota privileges. People or families who belong to OBC communities who have already achieved a certain level of socioeconomic advancement and do not need reservation privileges make up the creamy layer.

Controversy and Implementation:

The Mandal Commission’s recommendations sparked a great deal of debate and opposition from a variety of sources. The implementation of such a high proportion of reservations for OBCs, according to critics, would result in fewer opportunities for general-category applicants.

Nevertheless, in 1990, the Mandal Commission’s recommendations were implemented despite the protests, according to the then-prime minister V.P. Singh. This choice sparked massive protests and political unrest.  

Legacy and Impact:

India’s reservation policy was greatly broadened when the Mandal Commission’s recommendations were put into effect, and this represented a turning point in the nation’s attempts to combat social injustice. It acknowledged the need to take into account the multiplicity of disadvantaged populations in India and move beyond the dichotomy of SC and ST.

The decision to adopt the 27% OBC reservation resulted in significant political and social upheaval. Moreover, it also gave millions of members of OBC groups access to education and jobs in public institutions.

To sum up, the Mandal Commission’s ground-breaking recommendations from 1980 were essential in extending the reach of India’s quota policy and tackling the social and academic backwardness of Other Backward Classes. The commission’s work made a substantial contribution to India’s efforts to pursue social justice and equitable opportunity, notwithstanding the controversy and demonstrations surrounding its execution.           

Recommendations of the Mandal Commission (1990): Mandal Commission Stir

In 1990, when the Mandal Commission’s recommendations were put into effect, it represented a turning point in Indian politics and society. There were protests, demonstrations, and a sizable amount of political turbulence at the time. The “Mandal Commission Stir” or the “Mandal Agitation,” as this time period is also known, had a significant impact on the nation’s reservation policy and political climate. An account of the Mandal Commission’s recommendations’ execution and the uproar it caused can be found here:


  • The Mandal Commission, also referred to as the “Socially and Educationally Backward Classes Commission,” had advocated allocating 27% of seats in educational institutions and government positions to members of Other Backward Classes (OBCs).
  • The suggestions seek to address the OBCs’ social and educational underachievement and broaden the application of affirmative action to include groups other than SC and ST.
  • Although the commission’s report was delivered in 1980, it took the government ten years to decide to follow its recommendations.

Announcement of Implementation:

  • Prime Minister V.P. Singh’s administration decided to put the Mandal Commission’s recommendations into practise in August 1990.
  • In accordance with the ruling, 27% of open government positions and places in educational institutions will go to OBCs.
  • For historically oppressed OBC communities, this statement was seen as a major step towards social justice and equitable chances.

Agitation and Protests:

  • Widespread protests and rallies took place all over the nation in response to the Mandal Commission’s recommendations, especially in the northern states.
    • Marches, demonstrations, and strikes were organized against the decision by student organizations, political parties, and other groups.
  • Numerous protesters contended that the new reservation policy would limit the prospects for candidates in the general category. Moreover, it creates a feeling of prejudice among those who did not receive reservations.
  • Self-immolation protests, hunger strikes, and other forms of civil disobedience helped the campaign gain traction.

Political Turmoil:

  • In Indian politics, the Mandal Commission Stir had a significant effect. It sparked a divisive discussion between those in favour of and against the adoption of reservations for OBCs.
  • As political parties struggled with the problem, the political landscape was marked by shifting alliances, resignations, and leadership changes.
  • Leading politicians who passionately opposed the reservations, including L.K. Advani and Mulayam Singh Yadav, led the anti-Mandal movement.

Resolution and Implementation:

  • The V.P. Singh administration remained steadfast in its commitment to put the Mandal Commission recommendations into effect in the face of protests and political unrest.
  • After the proposals were finally put into action, 27% of seats in educational institutions and open government positions were reserved for OBCs.
  • Since then, this policy has remained in force, albeit with minor alterations and improvements throughout time.


  • On Indian politics and society, the Mandal Commission Uprising had a lasting impression. Social justice and inequality based on caste were brought to the fore of the public conversation.
  • The political landscape in several states was altered as a result of the rise of regional parties that supported OBCs.
  • The Mandal Commission’s recommendations were put into practice. It was a significant step in extending the reach of affirmative action in India beyond SCs and STs to OBCs.

In summary, despite the protests and political turmoil, the implementation of the Mandal Commission recommendations in 1990 was a watershed moment in Indian history. It extended the reach of reservation policies, acknowledging OBCs’ social and educational backwardness, and strengthened the nation’s commitment to achieving social justice and equal opportunities for historically disadvantaged communities.

The ‘Indra Sawhney’ Judgement of the Supreme Court (1992): The 50% Cap and Creamy Layer

The Supreme Court’s ‘Indra Sawhney’ judgment in 1992, also known as the Mandal case[2], was a watershed moment in Indian reservation policy. This decision addressed critical reservation system issues, such as the imposition of a 50% reservation cap and the concept of the “creamy layer.” Here’s a closer look at the ‘Indra Sawhney’ decision and its significance:


  • The ‘Indra Sawhney’ case arose as a result of the Mandal Commission’s recommendation that 27% of government job vacancies be reserved for Other Backward Classes (OBCs).
  • Several petitions were filed in various High Courts challenging the recommendations’ implementation.
  • These cases were eventually consolidated and heard by a nine-judge Supreme Court bench.

Key Aspects of the ‘Indra Sawhney’ Judgment:

50% Cap on Reservations:

  • The imposition of a 50% reservation cap was one of the judgment’s most important features.
  • According to a decision by the Supreme Court, reservations for OBCs, SCs, and STs should not total more than 50% of all available seats.
  • This limit was set up to strike a balance between the objectives of giving historically underrepresented groups opportunities and guaranteeing that a sizeable portion of seats remained open for the general category.

Creamy Layer Concept:

  • The idea of the “creamy layer” within the reserved categories was first discussed in the “Indra Sawhney” decision.
    • The term “creamy layer” is used to describe individuals or families who have achieved a certain level of socioeconomic advancement within the SC, ST, and OBC and do not need reservation benefits.
  • In order to make sure that those receiving reservation benefits were truly in need, the court decided that the creamy layer should be excluded.

Reservation for Economically Backward Classes (EBCs):

  • The judgment also upheld the government’s right to grant reservations to members of the general category who are economically underprivileged.
  • This implies that people from the general category can also benefit from reservations if they meet certain financial requirements.

Impact and Significance:

The ruling in the “Indra Sawhney” case had a significant impact on India’s legal system and reservation policy. Some of its main ramifications are as follows:

  • Since then, India has adopted and adhered to the 50 percent reservation cap as a general rule. It guarantees that candidates from the general category will continue to have access to a sizable portion of opportunities.
  • It has been possible to stop the perpetuation of privilege within reserved categories thanks to the introduction of the creamy layer concept. It makes sure that those who actually require reservation benefits get them.
  • The decision acknowledged the possibility of extending reservations to economically underprivileged portions of the general category, recognizing the significance of addressing economic disparities in addition to social and educational underachievement.
  • It clarified the legal framework governing reservations and offered principles for guiding government actions and affirmative action-related judicial rulings.

By introducing the 50% cap on reservations, the idea of the creamy layer, and the recognition of reservations for economically disadvantaged sections within the general category, the “Indra Sawhney” judgment of 1992 significantly influenced India’s reservation policy. It continues to be a pillar in the ongoing discussions and jurisprudential arguments about affirmative action in India.

EWS Quota (2019): The Latest Addition

India’s reservation policy was most recently expanded in 2019 with the implementation of the Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) quota. Regardless of caste or community, this quota was intended to address the economic inequalities that exist among various societal groups. An explanation of the EWS quota and its importance is given below:


  • Through the 103rd Amendment to the Indian Constitution, which was passed in 2019, the Indian government implemented the EWS quota.
  • This quota’s main goal was to give economically underprivileged people who might not come from traditionally underprivileged backgrounds access to government jobs and educational opportunities.

Key Aspects of the EWS Quota:

  1. 10% Reservation for EWS:
  1. 10% of seats in educational institutions and open government positions were set aside for members of the economically weaker sections under the EWS quota.
  • In addition to the existing reservations for SCs, STs, and OBCs, this reservation was made.
  • Eligibility Criteria:
  1. Individuals had to fulfill specific income and asset requirements. These were laid out in the amendment in order to be eligible for the EWS quota.
  • The selection criteria were based on things like annual family income and the ownership of both residential and agricultural property.
  • Non-Interference with Existing Reservations:
  1. The EWS quota would not affect the current reservations for SCs, STs, and OBCs, as stated explicitly in the amendment.
  • This made sure that the advantages of the current reservation policies were preserved.


The introduction of the EWS quota had several important implications:

  1. Economic Inequalities: The EWS quota sought to address economic inequalities that might not be related to caste or community but still impeded access to education and employment opportunities.
  • Enhancing the Scope of Reservations: It represented a significant widening of India’s reservation policy. It acknowledges the significance of economic factors in determining disadvantage.
  • Political and Social Debate: The EWS quota sparked discussions and debates, with some saying it might lessen the advantages of current reservations while others applauded it as a step towards inclusivity.
  • Legal challenges: The EWS quota was subject to legal challenges in the courts, similar to other reservation policies. However, the Supreme Court of India ultimately upheld the constitutionality of the policy.
  • Initiatives from the government: Additional steps were taken by the government to effectively implement the EWS quota. It includes the issuance of income and asset certificates to qualified applicants.

Last but not least, the EWS quota was implemented in 2019. It was the most recent change to India’s reservation policy. Its objectives were to reduce economic inequalities and give economically disadvantaged people opportunities, regardless of caste or community background. Furthermore, it also sparked discussions and disagreements about how various forms of social justice and affirmative action should be balanced.

The EWS Judgment (2020): Legal Challenges and Validation

The 10% reservation for economically disadvantaged groups within the general category that was implemented in India in 2019 is referred to as the EWS (Economically Weaker Sections) Judgement of 2020. The Supreme Court of India’s decision addressed legal objections and affirmed the EWS reservation’s implementation. An overview of the EWS Judgement and its importance can be found below:


  • The 103rd Amendment to the Indian Constitution, which added Articles 15(6) and 16(6) to establish this quota. It established the EWS reservation in 2019.
  • It aimed to extend reservation benefits to people in the general category who came from economically underprivileged backgrounds.

Legal Challenges:

  • The EWS quota was challenged in court almost immediately after it was introduced in different courts throughout India.
  • In these legal challenges, the main issue was whether the introduction of the EWS quota violated 50% restriction on reservations. Which was set by the Supreme Court’s “Indra Sawhney” decision in 1992.
  • A second layer of reservations for EWS candidates in the general category, according to critics, would go over 50% threshold. It breaks the earlier judicial precedent.

Key Aspects of the EWS Judgment (2020):

  • The EWS quota was challenged in court almost immediately after it was introduced in different courts throughout India.
  • In these legal challenges, the main issue was whether the introduction of the EWS quota violated the 50% restriction on reservations set by the Supreme Court’s “Indra Sawhney” decision in 1992.
  • A second layer of reservations for EWS candidates in the general category, according to critics, would go over the 50% threshold, breaking the earlier judicial precedent.

Significance of the EWS Judgment:

The EWS Judgment of 2020 has several significant implications:

  • Legitimization of Economic Criteria: The ruling reaffirmed the government’s right to base reservations on economic factors, recognising the significance of addressing economic disparities in people’s access to employment and education.
  • Recognising the Exception to the 50% Cap: The Supreme Court’s confirmation of the EWS quota as an exemption from the 50% cap imposed by the “Indra Sawhney” decision. It clarified the legal framework for reservations in India.
  • Legal Disputes: The EWS quota was upheld in this ruling. It did not preclude the possibility of additional legal disputes or discussions involving the reservation policy in the future.
  • Political and Social Implications: The decision had political and social ramifications because it resolved a contentious issue and gave legal support to a policy intended to improve the lot of those who are economically downtrodden in society as a whole.

The EWS Judgement of 2020, in sum, was a significant legal judgment that approved the implementation of the 10% EWS reservation within the general category in India. It outlined the legal framework for reservations and acknowledged the significance of addressing economic inequalities as a justification for affirmative action. The implications of this decision extend beyond the EWS reservation to include a broader discussion of social justice and equal opportunity in India.


In summary, India’s history with reservations, from the Champakam Dorairajan case in 1951 to the EWS Judgement in 2020. It reflects the nation’s complex and dynamic journey toward achieving social justice and equal opportunities. Significant legal and legislative turning points have characterized this evolution, each of which has shaped India’s reservation policy.

Despite the fact that these policies have significantly improved the chances provided to historically marginalised groups and economically underprivileged areas, the issue of reservations is still controversial.

India is still having trouble balancing the need for affirmative action with the goal of ensuring that everyone has an equal chance at success. The history of reservations in India demonstrates the nation’s commitment to establishing a more just and equitable society where each citizen has the opportunity to prosper and advance the nation.

Also Read: Legal Recourse for Disagreement: Contesting India’s Vehicle Scrapping Policy


  1. The Evolution of Reservations in India
  2. The Evolution of Reservations in India
  3. The Evolution of Reservations in India
  4. The Evolution of Reservations in India
  5. The Evolution of Reservations in India

[1] State of Madras Vs. Champakam Dorairajan, 1951 AIR 226,1951 SCR 525

[2] Indra Sawhney Vs. Union of India, AIR 1993 SC 477

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