The Constitution of India was made keeping in mind equal rights for every citizen of the nation. But as time flew by, the country was introduced with many judgements that influenced India’s laws. The Supreme Court has been the centre of many such decisions, as many cases have been fought, their judgements have influenced the polity and laws of India.

Many such cases and their judgments are considered essential for the preparation of UPSC. So here we are going to discuss the Indra Sawhney case for UPSC, which is regarded as one of the crucial cases to study. Here is the Indra Sawhney case summary, a short brief to help understand this remarkable case.

Background of the Indra Sawhney Case

Kalelkar Commission

When India became independent in 1947, the government took affirmative action for the Depressed Class, the Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs), which provided the benefits. But there was no list of the Other Backward Classes (OBC) of the country; those castes were not as backward as ST and SC were.

But these classes were treated insignificantly in the society and still fell behind the forward classes. To cope with this problem, India’s first Backward Classes Commission was established on 29 January 1953.

The Backward Classes Commission 

The Backward Classes Commission is also known as Kalelkar Commission, after Kaka Kalelkar, who headed it. And the commission was set up by Presidential Order under Article 304(2) of the Constitution of India. To take a community into account as a backward class, they relied on several factors like traditional occupation or profession, distribution amongst the State, general education advancement, literacy percentage, and estimated population.

The commission listed 2399 castes as socially and educationally backward classes, and they submitted the report to the Central Government on 30 March 1955. However, the Central Government had the idea to create a casteless society, so they rejected the report of the Commission in 1961.

Mandal Commission

The Mandal Commission, which was officially known as the Socially and Educationally Backward Classes Commission, was set up on 1 January 1979. The Janata Dal set up the commission, headed by the then Prime Minister Morarji Desai. The commission was under the Chairmanship of Member of Parliament (MP),  B. P. Mandal, hence called the Mandal Commission.

Mandal Commission’s chief mandate was to identify socially or educationally backward classes and provide reservations in public services and posts. To determine the backward classes, the commission developed social, economic and educational indicators with 11 points. The caste that accounted for all the 11 points was regarded as socially and educationally backward class.

The commission submitted their report to the President on 31 December 1980, which listed 3743 castes as SEBCs. And the report recommended a 27% reservation quota in public services for these OBCs. The commission had also identified backward classes in non-Hindu groups. But the government of the Janata Party collapsed, so they weren’t able to implement these recommendations.

The Janata Party

The Janata Party came back into power in 1989, headed by the then Prime Minister V. P. Singh. The Prime Minister had promised the public to implement the recommendations by the Mandal Commission if he came into power.

He fulfilled his promise and issued an Office Memorandum (OM) on 13 August 1989, which implemented the 27% reservation quota recommendation for OBCs. It also implemented a 10% reservation for other economically backward classes that were not covered under any existing reservation scheme.

This decision resulted in nationwide protests against the implementation. The anti-reservation protests soon transformed into violence, and major universities in North India were lit up in flames. Many student protestors were immolated; the scene was disturbing in the nation.

Seeing the critical situation at the time, the BAR association of the Supreme Court filed a petition challenging the validity of the Office Memorandum issued by the government. A five-judge bench decided to keep a stay order on the recommendations until 1 October 1990. Meanwhile, the government collapsed again due to defections in 1991, and once again, the Congress Government came into power.

Indra Sawhney Case Summary

The Congress Party was headed by the then Prime Minister P. V. Narsimha Rao. And the government came with a newly modified O. M. on 25 September 1991. The new O. M. stated that an additional 10% reservation would be provided for the economically backward classes not covered in any reservation scheme. This increased the reservation limit to 37%.

In 1992, Indra Sawhney, who is a journalist, saw young children, students of school and college protesting at Delhi Jhandewalan Extension, and it prompted her. Within the next two days, Indra Sawhney filed a case challenging the implementation by the government.

The case first began with a two-judge bench and went to a three-judge bench, five judge-bench, seven-judge bench, and then finally the nine-judge bench, which gave the verdict with a majority of 6 to 3 votes.

Issues of the Case

Indra Sawhney, the petitioner, had the following three arguments:

#1 The extension of limitation in the reservation is a violation of the constitutional guarantee for equal opportunity.

#2 Caste isn’t a reliable indicator for the identification of backwardness.

#3 The public institutions’ efficiency was put at risk.

Further essential issues court has to deal with:

#1 Whether Article 16(4) was an exception to Article 16(1) and is exhaustive in itself of the rights of the reservation.

#2 Whether the backward class can only be recognized exclusively by the economic criteria?

#3 Does Article 16(4) allow the classification of the ‘Backward Classes’ into the backward classes and most backward classes, and does it permit any classification amongst them based on economic or other considerations?

Indra Sawhney Case Judgement

On 16 November 1992, the Indra Sawhney Case judgement was given by the nine-judge bench of the Supreme Court with a 6:3 majority:

#1 The Backward class of citizens in Article 16(4) can be identified with the caste system and not just on an economic basis.

#2 Article 16(4) allows the classification of backward classes into backward and most backward classes.

#3 No reservation in promotion.

#4 Article 16(4) is not an exception of Article 16(1). The Article is an instance of classification. Reservation can be made under Article 16(4). Backward classes in Article 16(4) were not similar to socially and educationally backward in Article 15(4).

#5 Reservation shall not exceed 50%.

#6 Creamy layer must be excluded from the backward classes.

#7 Permanent statutory body to examine complaints of over inclusion/under inclusion

#8 Disputes regarding new criteria can only be raised in the Supreme Court.


The Supreme Court of India tried to opt for the best way to solve this dispute. It is a fine judgement made after taking into consideration the balance of the reservation of backward classes with society. The Indra Sawhney Case is considered to be one of the most important for the UPSC syllabus, so don’t skip on it.

To learn about more such similar cases, you can visit UPSC Pathshala. You can also opt for a free demo class by the UPSC Pathshala and experience the best online coaching for the preparations of IAS.

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Indra Sawhney Case Summary: Background of the Sawhney Case and its Judgement for UPSC
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Indra Sawhney Case Summary: Background of the Sawhney Case and its Judgement for UPSC
Indra Sawhney judgement has affected the polity and laws of the Constitution of India. Read this to find one of the most important topics for the UPSC syllabus.
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Shilpa is a professional web content writer and is in deep love with travelling. She completed her mass communication degree and is now dedicatedly playing with words to guide her readers to get the best for themselves. Developing educational content for UPSC, IELTS aspirants from breakthrough research work is her forte. Strongly driven by her zodiac sign Sagittarius, Shilpa loves to live her life on her own notes and completely agrees with the idea of ‘live and let live. Apart from writing and travelling, most of the time she can be seen in the avatar of 'hooman' mom to her pets and street dogs or else you can also catch her wearing the toque blanche and creating magic in the kitchen on weekends.

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