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CASE STUDY: B. K. Pavitra Vs. Union of India & Ors.

Supreme court of India in a landmark judgment upheld a reservation in promotion policy. The Supreme Court upheld the Karnataka Reservation Act, 2018 on the ground that the State had furnished sufficient data to demonstrate both that SC/STs are inadequately represented and that the policy would not adversely affect efficiency. The 2018 Act introduces consequential seniority for SC/STs in State Government Services.

The Court held that the issue of creamy layer has no relevance in the case of consequential seniority.

The Court further held that the Act doesn’t amount to usurpation of judicial power and neither did such an action by legislature nullify the judicial decision by the court. The act is in compliance with M. Nagaraj and Jarnail Singh Case.

Here is the entire case study:

B.K. Pavitra vs Union of India
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COURT: Supreme Court of India

BENCH: Justice Dr. D.Y Chandrachud and Justice U.U. Lalit

DECIDED ON: 10.05.2019

Citation: 2019 SCC Online SC 694


The case of B.K. Pavitra Vs. U.O.I is a significant and controversial case pertaining to the matter of determining seniority and promotions based on reservations in the government jobs for the state of Karnataka. The case has to be understood in two parts - B.K. Pavitra I[1] and B.K. Pavitra II[2]. In B.K. Pavitra I, the Karnataka 2002 Act that provided for reservations in regards to promotions and consequential seniority in government employment got declared invalid by the Supreme Court of India as it was not in compliance with the principles laid by precedents in the case of reservations.

Article 16 of the Indian Constitution enables states to make laws regarding reservation of SC/STs in central and state jobs. Talking about reservations there have been imperative judgements laid out in the matter, such as Indra Sawhney vs. U.O.I[3] in which it was upheld by a nine judges bench that the reservation contemplated under Article 16(4) must be only to the extent of fifty percent and is applicable only for appointments and not promotions. Further, the creamy layer can be and must be excluded from the backward classes. An important amendment was made in the constitution in 1995 by inserting Clause 4A to Article 16, that provides room for the reservation in promotions as well. Next important case with this respect is M. Nagaraj vs. U.O.I[4] wherein it was held that in order to bring promotions made within the purview of article 16(4), it is mandatory for the state to collect quantifiable data on three facts – inadequate representation of that class in public employment; backwardness of the class; and the overall impact on the efficiency as per Article 335 of the constitution


B.K. Pavitra I

The case arises when the State of Karnataka implemented a Karnataka 2002 Act [the Karnataka Determination of Seniority of the Government Servants Promoted on the Basis of the Reservation (to the Posts in the Civil Services of the State) Act] after getting assent from the President. This Act was declared invalid by the Supreme Court’s two judges bench on the ground that such Act was made with inadequate quantifiable data that didn’t took into consideration the appropriate representation of the backward classes in the employment sector, the backwardness of those classes and the overall impact of such provision on the efficiency of administration as per Article 335. The court further held that this is a mandate condition that have to be met in order to formulate any provisions in regards to promotions of SC/ST’s in the government employment under article 16(4A) of the Indian Constitution[5]. The Court was of the firm view that a fresh exercise in the light of the judgment of the Constitution Bench in M. Nagaraj is categorically imperative. The bench was unable to accept the submission, for when the provisions of the Constitution are treated valid with certain conditions or riders, it becomes incumbent on the part of the State to appreciate and apply the test so that its amendments can be tested and withstand the scrutiny on parameters laid down therein.

Consequently, after this judgement, the Karnataka Government made a committee namely Ratna Prabha Committee that was assigned to work on the data in an efficient and quantifiable manner. The Committee has to determine the proper representation of the class, its backwardness and the overall impact of such provisions over the particular class. Based on the report and the findings of the Committee, the legislature of Karnataka passed the Karnataka Extension of Consequential Seniority to Government Servants Promoted on the Basis of Reservation (to the Posts in the Civil Services of the State) Bill 2017, which got the President’s assent in 2018 and became an Act (hereinafter called as The Reservation Act, 2018).

B.K. Pavitra II

Subsequently, the Reservation Act, 2018 was challenged before the Supreme Court in the case of B.K. Pavitra II, 2019 SCC Online SC 694.[6] In the said case the Petitioner challenged the legality and constitutional validity of the said Act, calling it ultra-vires the Constitution. The Petitioner also submitted that amending the act couldn’t take away the bias on which the decision was made in B.K. Pavitra I, 2017.


1. Whether the Karnataka Reservations Act, 2002 ultra vires the constitution? Whether the intent of the Reservation Act, 2018 was to nullify the effect of the judgement passed in B.K. Pavitra vs U.O.I[7]? The Petitioners challenged the legality of the Reservation Act and also whether it overrules the decision of the Supreme Court given in B.K. Pavitra I. The Petitioners also called into question the constitutionality of the power of the Governor of Karnataka to withhold the bill for the assent of the President, the Impact of reservations in promotions upon the Efficiency of administration and the concept of Creamy Layer which was not considered in B.K. Pavitra I.

2. Whether the Act is in compliance with the principles laid down by the Supreme Court in the case of Jarnail Singh and M. Nagaraj? Whether the Ratna Prabha Committee instituted by the state of Karnataka successfully complied with three parameters laid down in the M. Nagaraj Case?


The contentions by the petitioners could be divided into:-

(A) Usurpation of judicial power as the state was in a hurry to overrule the decision given in B.K. Pavitra I, there was no compelling necessity to do so, and on comparing both the 2017 and 2018 acts, it is found that they both are substantially same.

(B) Violation of the separation of powers as the legislature and judiciary are distinct bodies, therefore the legislature cannot lawfully usurp the judicial power by sitting in an appeal over any judicial decision in an attempt to overturn the decision. Unless the basis of a legislation which is found to be ultra vires has been altered, the mere enactment of a new legislation would constitute a brazen overruling of the law, which is impermissible.

(C) Lack of compliance with M. Nagaraj and Jarnail Singh case, by assailing the Ratna Prabha Committee report on the relevancy of the data collected.

(D) On the Reservation of the Bill to the President, wherein the petitioner submitted that there were no specific reasons for the governor to withhold the bill for the assent of the president and the reference was unconstitutional.


On usurpation of judicial power and violation of separation of powers, the respondents stated that curative legislation doesn’t amount to encroachment on judicial power by the state legislature. The legislature has plenary powers to exercise its right to collect data. The respondents convinced the court on its compliance with M. Nagaraj and Jarnail Singh case. On the issue of the reservation of the Bill by the Governor for the assent of the President, the respondents submitted that the Legislature holds bicameral powers and unicameral powers. As per article 200, the Governor holds the power to assent to a bill, withhold it or reserve it for the consideration if it feels so. Therefore, the discretion is vested upon the Governor to withhold the bill for President’s assent, if there may be any genuine doubt about the applicability of any of the provisions of the Constitution which require the assent of the President to avoid any future complication.


The Court declared the Reservations Bill, 2018 to be constitutional. On 10th of May, 2019, the Supreme Court bench of Justices Dr. D.Y Chandrachud and Justice U.U. Lalit, held that as the legislature is vested with plenary powers as per the Constitution of India. The legislature of Karnataka duly exercised the power within its right by appointing Ratna Prabha Committee for the collection, analysis of quantifiable data on the mandatory factors as laid in the M. Nagaraj case which were missing in the previous case of B.K. Pavitra I[8]. The court again recapitulated the imperative precedents laid for reservations like ceiling of 50 percent, the concept of creamy layer and three parameters of adequate representations of class, the backwardness of classes and the impact upon administration efficiency that are required to be tested for allowing reservations in promotions. These are the core requirements without which the structure of equality under article 16 is bound to collapse. The court also held that the issue of creamy layer has no relevance in the case of consequential seniority.[9]

The Court in B.K. Pavitra II observed that the Karnataka government had worked on the underlying cause for declaring the act invalid in 2017. The government remedied and removed the basis of the decision given previously by the court, which is constitutional as the government has plenary powers to exercise its duty. The Court even held that the data collected and analyzed by the state government is relevant and enabled the court to lay down findings based on irrelevant or extraneous facts. It found that the state government of Karnataka has taken into consideration the data of the specific necessary departments that are representative and relevant itself of the backward classes. The Act doesn’t amount to usurpation of judicial power and neither did such an action by legislature nullify the judicial decision by the court. Also the act is in compliance with M. Nagaraj and Jarnail Singh Case.

Therefore, the court did not find any merit in the batch of writ petitions and finally dismissed them.

[1] B.K. Pavitra Vs. U.O.I (2017) 4 SCC 620 [2] B.K. Pavitra Vs. U.O.I, 2019 SCC Online SC 694 [3] Indra Sawhney vs Union Of India And Others, AIR 1993 SC 477. [4] M. Nagaraj & Others vs Union Of India & Others, (2006) 8 SCC 212. [5] M.Nagaraj & Others vs Union Of India & Others (2006)8 SCC 212. [6] Reservation in Promotion, Supreme Court Observer. https://www.scobserver.in/court-in-review/reservation-in-promotion?slug=bk-pavitra-v-union-of-india-ii [7] B.K. Pavitra vs U.O.I, 2017 (4SCC, 620) [8] Explainer: Significance of the Supreme Court’s Nod to Reservation in Promotions, The Wire (May12 ,2019). https://thewire.in/law/supreme-court-sc-st-reservations [9] Kanu Agrawal, The Supreme Court’s judgment in BK Pavitra II: Deliberate ignorance? Bar & Bench (May18, 2019). https://www.barandbench.com/columns/bk-pavitra-ii-the-deliberate-ignorance