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  • In the recent landmark case of Neil Aurelio Nunes and ors. vs. Union of India and ors. the Hon’ble SC, while upholding the validity of the 27% reservation of OBC in NEET-AIQ, stated that Article 15(4) and 15(5) are not an exception but an extension of the principle of substantive equality embodied in Article 15(1) of the Constitution of India.
  • Going into the background of this case, in Abhay Nath vs. University of Delhi (2009) the Apex Court had upheld the constitutional validity of the reservation of seats for the SC’s and ST’s in the All India Quota (AIQ) seats. Subsequently, the Union Parliament passed the Central Educational Institutions (Reservation In Admissions) Act, 2006 providing for reservation of SC and ST along with a 27% reservation for OBC.
  • The constitutional validity of this Act was challenged in the case of Ashok Kumar Thakur vs. Union of India (2007) SCC. The Apex Court upheld its constitutionality. The Tamil Nadu Backward Classes, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Reservation of Seats in Educational Institutionsand of Appointments or Posts in the Services Under the State) Act, 1993 was then enacted to provide 50% reservation to OBC in State run Medical Institutions. DMK filed a writ petition to allow reservation of OBC in AIQ seats.
  • Upon a direction by the HC, it was submitted that the said reservation would be implemented from the next academic year to avoid disturbance in the ongoing selection process. But this was opposed by the DMK party. They filed a contempt petition seeking the reservation to be implemented immediately. The Directorate General of Health, MoHFW, issued a notification to implement the reservation. The same was challenged before the SC.
  • In its decision, the Apex Court referred to a plethora of past judgements, the first of them being Balaji vs State of Mysore (1963). In this case the SC observed that Article 15(4) serves as an exception to Article 15(1). In the case of T Devadasan vs Union of India (1964) Justice Subba Rao in his dissenting judgement wrote that 16(4) is a facet of Article 16(1).
  • In the landmark case of State of Kerala vs NM Thomas (1976) the Court observed that the essence of equality enshrined in the Constitution encompasses both substantive and formal equality. Substantive equality recognises that there is equality only among equals and to treat unequals equally would perpetuate inequality. Article 15(4) and (5) are the provisions through which substantive equality could be achieved.
  • In the landmark judgement of Indra Sawhney vs. Union of India, the Hon’ble SC observed that the reservation for backward classes does not create an exception to the concept of equality enshrined in our Constitution.
  • Thus, upholding the reservation, the Court held that Article 15(4) and (5) are a restatement of the principle of equality as envisaged in Article 15(1) of the Constitution.
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