IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA
AIR 1996 SC 1011
Mrs. Valsamma Paul
Cochin University & Ors.
Date of Judgement
4 January, 1996
Hon’ble Justice K Ramaswamy; B Hansaria, Justice.
The Court emphasized the fundamental right of equality provided by the Constitution of India which is further envisaged by equal opportunities in education and employment by means of affirmative action granting reservation to the weaker section of the society who are not adequately represented in the service of the State. The persons who are recognized by the backward communities as a member despite belonging to a forward class may not be entitled to claim benefits of the backward class for the very reason that they have not lived a life with disadvantages and disabilities as the former and granting them with such benefits would only lead to transgression of the fundamental principles that our Constitution stands for.
Facts of the case
There were posts of lecturers vacant in the Law Department of Cochin University one of which was reserved for Latin Catholics (Backward Class-Fishermen). The appellant, a Syrian Catholic (a forward class), had married a Latin Catholic and applied against the reserved seat and the University appointed her against the said post. Her appointment was challenged by filing a Writ Petition requesting the petitioner’s appointment in the place of the appellant. The writ petition was allowed and direction was given for the appointment to strictly be in accordance with Rules 14 to 17 of the Kerala State Subordinate Service Rules and against this order, the appellant filed the appeal.
Reference was made to Dr. Kaniamma Alex v. Public Service Commission which was upheld in Public Service Commission v. Dr. Kanjama Alex. The validity of the decision of the Division Bench in Dr. Kanjamma Alex’s case was doubted because of which the reference was made to the Full Bench.
The Full Bench in the impugned judgment held that the appellant being a Syrian Catholic by birth cannot claim the status of a backward class by marrying a Latin Catholic
Articles 15(4) and 16(4) of the Constitution are meant for advancement of socially and educationally backward classes of citizens and the same would be defeated by if candidates, who by alliance or by any other mode has joined that community, avail the benefit. Accordingly, the Full Bench overruled the decision of the Division Bench and the single Judge. The appeal challenging the Division Bench Judgement was moved alongside these appeals.
- To harmonize the personal law of the citizens and the constitutional aim of according equal opportunity to the socially and educationally backward classes as envisaged in Articles 15(4) and 16(4) of the Constitution.
It was contended that though the appellant is a Syrian Catholic (a forward class) by birth, by voluntarily marrying a Latin Catholic (Fishermen community) in 1982, she had been recognized as a member of the community. She has been subjected to all the environmental disabilities to which her husband and other members of the backward class in the region are subjected to. To deny her the benefits under Article 16(4) would be discriminatory and denial of equality.
It was submitted that birth itself is not a determinative factor for claiming protective discrimination, and environmental and social disabilities are also to be factored in to which the appellant was subjected to voluntarily making her entitled to the equal treatment as is accorded to other members of the backward class (Fishermen herein). Thus, the Full Bench has erred.
It was contended that Articles 15(4) and 16(4) are intended for the benefit of backward class citizens due to social and educational backwardness such as Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes and hence birth is the determinative factor for entitlement of benefits under these Articles. No other method can suffice.
It is relevant to note that the rationale behind it the inadequacy of representation of that class into an office or service under the State. As the appellant lived as a member of the forward class with the access of all such advantages, a voluntary marriage to a Latin Catholic would not entitle her to receive the benefits and only if she can prove that she and member of her class had faced such discrimination in the past, only then can such protective discrimination can be availed by her. Mere recognition and acceptance by the community are not relevant enough.
The Court dismissed the appeals and the orders of the Division Bench and the single Judge stand set aside. The Full Bench’s judgment is upheld as it rightly concluded that the appellant is not entitled to the benefit of reservation under Article 16(4). The learned single Judge and the Division Bench proceed solely on the basis of Canon Law and the acceptance in the community on marriage and constitutional mandate is overlooked.
Article 14 guarantees “equality before law” and “equal protection of the laws” and Articles 15(4) and 16(4) are ancillary to it which aims to achieve social and economic justice and to eliminate inequalities in status. They are meant to promote the interests of the weaker sections of society and prevent them from all forms of exploitation. Achieving social democracy and the union of the trinity of liberty, equality, and fraternity is the constitutional goal. The Preamble, Fundamental Rights as well as Directive Principles entail the promotion of social and economic
Article 15(4) instructs the State to make special provision for the advancement of any socially and educationally backward classes of citizens including the Dalits and Tribes and Article 16(4) provides reservation for sections which in the opinion of the State are not adequately represented in the services under the State. The Court interpreted that equal protection guaranteed by Articles 14, 15(1) and 16(1) is required to operate consistently with Articles 15(4), 16(4), 38, 39, 46 and 335 of the Constitution and equal protection requires affirmative action for unequals who are socially and educationally backward.
The Mandal case is very significant for this Court to arrive at the conclusion. It held caste to be nothing but a social class and held that reservation under Article 16(4) is not made in favor of a ‘caste’ but a backward class which is not adequately represented in the services of the State
To address the question of whether a candidate, by marriage, adoption or obtaining a false certificate of social status would be entitled to an identification’ as such member of the class for appointment to a post reserved under Article 16(4) or for an admission in an educational institution under Article 15(4), the Court referred to several judicial pronouncements where the Court has disentitled the persons belonging to forward class by birth, the right to reservation by gaining entitlement through false certificates of the status of backward class. The attempts of transplantation of forwarding classes to backward classes to claim reservations is not permissible.
The Court addressed the question of whether a lady marrying a member of the backward class by adoption or any other voluntary act, ipso facto, becomes entitled to claim reservation under Article 15(4) or 16(4). All the backward classes such as STs, SCs, and OBCs faced social and economic disabilities recognized by Articles 17 and 15(2) and became socially, culturally and educationally backward. The object of reservation is to remove these handicaps, to which the members of these communities were subjected to. It has been noted, in this respect, that any person who would attempt, by process of law and seeks to acquire the status of such a backward class should satisfy that he/she suffered the same handicaps or disadvantages due to social, educational and cultural backwardness. A person born in an upper caste and having early advantages of education is not entitled to the benefits, acquisition of such a status would be considered as defrauding the Constitution.
The Court also dealt with whether recognition by the community, as recognized by this Court in Mohan Rao’s case would give the benefit of reservation. In that case, the concerned party belonged to a Scheduled Case but converted to Christianity and then further reconverted to Hinduism claiming back his caste. The Court held recognition by the community is a precondition for a valid reconversion and there as a true intention on his part. Presently, the recognition of the appellant as a member of the Latin Catholic would not be relevant for her entitlement to the reservation under Article 16(4) because she is a member of the forward caste, had an advantageous life and after her completing education and becoming major married voluntarily to a member of backward class and so, she is not entitled to the facility of reservation given to him.
- The Constitution is based on secularism and socialism which aids in realizing that unless all sections of the society are provided equal facilities and opportunities to participate in political democracy irrespective of caste, religion, and sex, the political democracy cannot survive.
- Persons belonging to upper caste by birth cannot claim benefits of the backward class by using different modes of transplanting themselves into that caste.
- The mere recognition of the community in that caste is not enough for a forward caste member to entitle himself to the reservation.
Edited by Parul Soni
Approved & Published – Sakshi Raje
 Dr. Kaniamma Alex v. Public Service Commission (1980) KLT 18.
 Public Service Commission v. Dr. Kanjama Alex (1980) KLT 24.
Indra Sawhney v. Union of India, (1992) Supp. 3 SCC 217.
A.S. Sailaja v. Kurnool Medical College, Kurnool and Ors., AIR 1986 AP 209.
Principal, Guntur Medical College, Guntur v. Y. Mohan Rao, 1976 AIR 1904.