On 18 March 2020, the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Uttarakhand government abolished reservations in promotions in state government jobs for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. The order came less than two months after a two-judge bench of the Supreme Court delivered its judgment in the case of Mukesh Kumar vs State of Uttarakhand. In it, the judges L Nageswar Rao and Hemant Gupta, both upper caste, wrote that the state government “is not bound to make reservations” and there is “no fundamental right which inheres in an individual to claim reservation in promotion.”
The judges noted that “the inadequacy of representation is a matter within the subjective satisfaction of the state”—the state government would need to collect data on the representation of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes only in the case it chose to provide reservations in promotions. However, it would not need to collect data on representation if it chose not to provide such reservations. The bench further stated that even if the under-representation of these communities in public services were brought to the Supreme Court’s notice, it could not issue directions to the state government to provide reservations.
Three days later, parliamentarians voiced their opposition to the judgment as well as criticised the judiciary in both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha. Most critics in the parliament were from Scheduled Caste, Scheduled Tribe and Other Backward Class communities. “The Constitution provides for reservations for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes,” Ramdas Athawale, a minister of state for social justice and empowerment, said in the Rajya Sabha. “How can the Supreme Court say that it is entirely up to the state government to give reservations?” In the Rajya Sabha, Ram Vilas Paswan, a the union minister of consumer affairs, food and public distribution, listed instances that showed that the judiciary had erected obstacles for marginalised communities to avail of reservations in the past.
The parliamentarians suggested that the judiciary had an upper-caste bias. Of the 33 judges in the Supreme Court, only one, BR Gavai, is a Dalit. The last judge from the community retired nine years ago. The court has just seen one judge from the Adivasi and tribal communities—HK Sema, who was a member of a Naga tribe. Multiple members said that there should be reservations for marginalised communities in the judiciary and that reservations should be made a subject in the Constitution’s Ninth Schedule, which offers laws protection from judicial scrutiny. Paswan, too, raised these points, after specifying that he was speaking in his capacity as the leader of the Lok Janshakti Party, distancing the BJP and the central government from his demand. Ramgopal Yadav, a Rajya Sabha member from the Samajwadi Party, said, “Those who are coming into the judiciary, because of their mentality, would definitely decide matters in a way that would be detrimental to the reservations provided to this large populace.”
While briefing the Rajya Sabha regarding the matter on 10 February, Thawar Chand Gehlot, the union minister of social justice and empowerment, emphasised that the central government was not a party to the case and that it would hold a high-level discussion regarding the matter. Various parliamentarians insisted that the central government respond with more urgency and undo the judgment by filing a review petition or bringing a law that would supersede the judgment.