CHEBROLU LEELA PRASAD RAO & ORS. v. STATE OF A.P. & ORS.: Supreme Court favours Equality in Opportunity

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“It is an obnoxious idea that tribals only should teach tribals.”

 -Arun Mishra, J[1].

While its reliability was being questioned due to the arbitrariness in the matters that were being listed and subsequently heard[2], the Hon’ble Supreme Court, overruling the judgement of the High Court of Andhra Pradesh, quashed the idea of 100% reservation for tribal candidates in tribal areas.

The erstwhile state of Andhra Pradesh on January 10th, 2000 passed a Government Order (hereinafter “GO”), which provided for 100% reservation to Scheduled Tribes for the post of teachers in schools in the scheduled areas in the State of Andhra Pradesh. The impugned GO was brought to the doors of the Hon’ble High Court on the ground that it was discriminatory towards the tribal as well as non-tribal candidates. Subsequently, it was contended by the government that this was taken to get rid of chronic absenteeism which was prevailing in the schools located in the Scheduled Areas. The High Court fervently upheld the contentions of the government and stated that in peculiar circumstances the reservation could exceed 50%. Surprisingly, it also stated that the power exercised by the Governor under para 5(1), Schedule V of the Constitution overrides all other provisions, including Part III of the Constitution. Before this decision could have seen the light of the day, it was challenged in the Hon’ble Supreme Court on the ground that it was erroneous and suffered from the vice of arbitrariness, thereby abrogating the sacrosanct provisions of Part III of the Constitution.

Manifold issues were raised within the walls of the Hon’ble Supreme Court. This article majorly pivots on those issues which became the turning point in the fate of the High Court’s judgment.

The Supreme Court’s verdict

With regard to the Governor’s Power

The Hon’ble Court declared the notification to be ultra vires, stating that Paragraph 5(1) of Schedule V does not confer upon Governor the power to enact a law but to direct that a particular Act of the Parliament or a State legislature shall not apply to a scheduled area or any part thereof or shall apply with exceptions and modifications, as may be specified in the notification.[3] The Governor is not authorised to enact a new Act under the provisions contained in para 5(1) of Schedule V of the Constitution. He/She cannot act beyond its purview and has to exercise his power within the four corners of the provision.[4]

With regard to Fundamental Rights

The contentions of the petitioner, pivoting on the effects of the use of non-obstante clause in the beginning of the provision of the Fifth Schedule was aimed at establishing its superiority over all other provisions of the Constitution. The Hon’ble Bench, endorsing the sanctity of the Fundamental Rights, stated that the Court has to make every endeavour to ensure that the efficacy of fundamental rights is maintained and the legislature is not invested with unlimited power.[5] The Hon’ble Court boldly expressed that the Constitution can never aim to confer any arbitrary power on the constitutional authorities and they (powers) are to be exercised in a rational manner, keeping in view the objectives of the Constitution and the non-obstante clause has to be considered in the context and purpose for which it has been carved out, not in derogation but the furtherance of the constitutional aims and objectives.[6]

Quantum of Reservations

The Appellants unveiled a two-fold argument to support the challenge. Initially, it was contended that providing any reservation exceeding 50% will be a violation of its own precedents. For this the appellants relied on the Indra Sawhney case,[7] wherein the Hon’ble Court set the limit of 50% reservation which could only be surpassed in extraordinary situations. Subsequently, it was contended that providing 100% reservation would be antithetical to the intent of the framers and would ignore the merit thereby resulting in the compromise of education.

The Respondents drew the attention of the Court to Article 15,16 and Directive Principles contained in Article 37,38,47 and 51(A) and put forth that the reservation could exceed 50% in peculiar circumstances like the one in hand as the impugned GO was strictly pertaining to the said Schedule Area and in such cases the government was allowed to do the same. It was further argued that the umbrella of Schedule V, which has provisions for administration of Scheduled Areas and Tribes, is a special code in itself which has to be dealt in differently, the presence of the non-obstante clause at the beginning of the Schedule V makes it supersede the Fundamental Rights and in this light the judgement of the High Court should be maintained.

The Hon’ble Court relied on the Indra Sawhney[8] judgement to highlight that the founding fathers of the Constitution never envisaged reservation of all seats. It was held that 50% was the rule, which can only be relaxed in peculiar circumstances but with extreme vigilance. The Hon’ble Court also held that 100% reservation for Scheduled tribes was also discriminatory towards both, the non-tribals as well as the tribals who were not the residents of the scheduled areas.[9]

The issue of caste-based reservation was first brought up in the case of Champakaran Dorairajan v. State of Madras[10] wherein the seats of the Medical Institutes were reserved on the grounds of Caste, religion and race. However, this action of State of Madras was invalidated on the ground of being violative of Article 15(4)[11] since reservation was provided based on the grounds prohibited by the said Article. This forced the Nehru majority government to amend and insert Article 15(4) just after sixteen months from its (Constitution) very birth in order to tackle the unfavourable judgement.[12]

Article 15(4) of Constitution of India obligates the States to make special provisions for the upliftment of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled tribes and people who are ‘socially and economically backward.[13] But the Constitution is silent on the part of quantum of reservation, It was stated by the Hon’ble Supreme Court in Balaji v. State of Madras[14] that reservation should not be extended more than 50 per cent as granting any sorts of reservations more than this will hamper the principles of merit.

Reservation in India is not limited to education only but the Constitution also entitles reservation in employment. Article 16[15] of the Constitution of India states that there should be “equality of opportunity in matters of public employment”. Clause 4 of the Article empowers the States to make provisions ensuring reservation in public posts and appointments. In T.Devadasan v. Union of India,[16] the reservation of vacant posts went up to 64 per cent by the GO. The Apex Court struck down this order and observed that this is violative of Articles 14[17] and 16(1) and with regards to reservation in employment, Government should see that there is no excessive reservation made for backward classes otherwise it ignores merit and is thereby derogatory to the system of education, owing to which the interests of other communities will be disturbed. However, in N.M. Thomas v. State of Kerala[18] The Hon’ble Court held that Article 16(4) was not an exception to 16(1) but a facet of it and gave the verdict in the favour of the Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribes.[19]

In the landmark case of Indra Sawhney v. Union of India[20] the Court again touted the judgement of the N.M. Thomas and reiterated Article 16(4) to be a facet and not an exception of Article 16(1). The Hon’ble Court also upheld the 50 percent rule and observed that any reservation exceeding the same would be violative of Article 16 of the Constitution.

Accepting the contentions of the appellants, the Court invalidated the GO and declared it to be ultra vires the Constitution. The Hon’ble Court concluded that the outer limit for reservation policies cannot exceed 50%.[21] The Hon’ble Court while reprimanding the actions of the State quashed the GO with costs while upholding the retrospect appointments in the interests of Justice.[22]

Concluding Remarks

It is sorrowful that in spite of there being a cluster of progressive provisions for the benefit of the backward classes for the last seventy years we have failed to bridge the gap. It is displeasing to see that the reservation policies which were so required to bridge the gap between the classes have done little to no good. There has been a massive development of manifold classes within a class, which is very antithetical to the intent of the framers of the Constitution. It is high time for us to endeavour to trickle down the benefits to the very roots. The Hon’ble Court has yet again failed to define the exceptional circumstances wherein the reservation could exceed 50%. It is imperative that the conundrum surrounding such a question should be promptly resolved and while interpreting any such provision of the Constitution we espouse the intent of the founders of this holy document. The contemporary judgment by the Hon’ble Bench was widely celebrated, the Hon’ble Court delicately harmonized the functioning of Part III and Schedule V of the Constitution by keeping in mind the significance of a level playing field and ensuring the need for equality of opportunity. There lies a delicate thread between the two, the delicacy of which should be maintained.

(This post has been authored by Animesh Upadhyay and Mudit Ahuja, 4th Year law students at Dr. Ram Manohar Lohiya National Law University, Lucknow and ILS, Pune respectively)


  1. Chebrolu Leela Prasad Rao & Ors. v. State of A.P. & Ors., 2020 SCC OnLine SC 383, Para 133.
  2. Live Law, Urgent Listing of Arnab’s Case: Lawyer Expresses Discontent Over SC’s Registry, Alleges Discrimination & Preferential Treatment available at <> (last visited on May 3, 2020).
  3. The Constitution of India, 1950, Schedule V, para 5(1).
  4. Supra note. 1, para 51
  5. supra note 1, para 76
  6. supra note 1, para 78
  7. Indra Sawhney v. Union of India, AIR 1993 SC 477
  8. Supra Note 7.
  9. Supra Note 1, para 148.
  10. Champakaran Dorairajan v. State of Madras, AIR 1951 SC 226
  11. The Constitution of India, 1950, Article 15(1)
  12. Tripurdaman Singh, “Sixteen Stormy Days”.
  13. The Constitution of India, 1950, Article 15(4)
  14. Balaji v. State of Madras, AIR 1963 SC 649
  15. The Constitution of India, 1950, Article 16.
  16. T.Devadasan v. Union of India, AIR 1964 SC 179
  17. The Constitution of India, 1950, Article 14.
  18. N.M. Thomas v. State of Kerala, AIR 1976 SC 490
  19. N.M. Thomas v. State of Kerala, AIR 1976 SC 490, para 137.
  20. Supra Note 7
  21. Supra Note 1, para 154.
  22. Supra Note 1, p. 152

Cite as: Animesh Upadhyay and Mudit Ahuja, ‘CHEBROLU LEELA PRASAD RAO & ORS. v. STATE OF A.P. & ORS.: Supreme Court Favours Equality in Opportunity’ (The Contemporary Law Forum, 16 May 2020) < > date of access.


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