January 28, 2023

Analyzing the 103rd Constitutional Amendment

This article has been written by Reet Babbar, a second year student of University of Petroleum and Energy Studies

The Constitution (One Hundred and Third Amendment) Act, 2019

The Indian Constitution was amended to include economic reservations, which established that reservations would be granted based on a benchmark determined by one’s economic condition. Articles 15 and 16 of the constitution, which address the prohibition of discrimination on the basis of religion, race, caste, sex, or place of birth, and, significantly, equality of opportunity in areas of public employment, were amended on January 12th, 2019 as a result of the amendment. In order to promote welfare and provide a 10% reservation for individuals from economically marginalized sections in public employment and public or private educational institutions, it introduced Articles 15(6) and 16(6). 

Need for amendment

When discussing the concerns that led to the necessity for this amendment, the first important factor is the disparity that exists in Indian society. As is well known, there are gaps in access to employment and education that are quite broad, and there are also gaps based on caste and socioeconomic level. This indicates that people who were wealthy and in good financial standing had significantly larger accessibility to education in institutions, and because of the exposure they would have experienced as a result of having such wide facilities, they also had superior chances of finding employment opportunities. In order to seek a redressal for these imbalances, these reserve quotas were introduced since it is fundamental for a democratic government to eradicate the disadvantages that now exist within society. 

In accordance with the amendment, vertical provisions were made for the poor who were not protected by the policy of 50% reservation for SCs, STs, and individuals of socially and educationally disadvantaged groups, hence it must be brought in notice that reservation was provided to economically weaker section of general or “unreserved” category only. As a consequence of this amendment, the government has disclosed the parameters for classifying EWS in 2019. As a result, for the purposes of quotas, everyone whose family income was less than Rs. 8 lakh in the fiscal year preceding the request year would be considered as EWS. Additionally excluded were people who acquired five acres of agricultural land, a house larger than 1,000 square feet, a house larger than 100 square yards in notified municipalities, or bigger than 200 square yards elsewhere.


Several petitions were submitted after this constitutional amendment was passed that contested the EWS reservations and raised legal questions on its validity. This was challenged on the grounds that the amendment attempted to reserve seats predominantly on the basis of economic backwardness rather than social backwardness, violating the basic structure of the constitution. Reservations were not intended to be a vehicle for achieving economic equality between different castes and groups, but rather a means of addressing historical oppression, which the constitution now explicitly addresses. Secondly, it was claimed that the EWS quota was arbitrary since it extended to a broad category and excluded SC, ST, and OBCs, despite the fact that poor persons from those sections could also avail this purely economic criterion to obtain reservations. Thirdly, and perhaps most significantly, it disregarded the 1992 judgement of the Supreme Court in the Indra Sawhney & Others v. Union of India case, which stated that reservation quotas may not exceed 50% of the total number of seats available, while this 10% extra reservation in pursuant to already existing reserved seats increased the total quantum of reserve seats to around 60%. A nine-judge bench had declared in this case that there cannot be a reservation made exclusively on the basis of economic factors since the Constitution does not permit it. Additionally, individuals who condemned this change among the general considered that the added 10% reservation was announced shortly before the 2019 elections, leading many people to feel that it was a complimentary economic incentive being provided to them in order to increase their voter turnout ahead of the approaching elections.

Janhit Abhiyan v. Union of India

This was the landmark judgement of the Supreme Court in which the court upheld the validity of the 103rd Constitutional Amendment. The petitioners in this case were workers of an NGO called Janhit Abhiyan, Youth for Equality, and they questioned the constitutionality of the amendment on the grounds of the legal challenges, contending that it violates the basic structure because the government cannot establish an extensive reservation scheme that is solely based on economic status, it is also breaching the 50% ceiling limit and it is not legitimate to provide such reservations in private unaided institutions as well. 

On September 8, 2022, a constitutional bench comprised of the then Chief Justice of India, Justice UU Lalit, Justices Dinesh Maheshwari, Bela M Trivedi, Ravindra Bhat, and JB Pardiwala highlighted these three fundamental issues that it had to determine in this case. The final judgment was delivered in a 3:2 majority, where Justices S Ravindra Bhat and UU Lalit dissented from the majority view, while Justices Dinesh Maheshwari, Bela Trivedi, and JB Pardiwala upheld the amendment. While discussing economically disadvantaged groups in society, Justice UU Lalit expressed his opinion, questioning whether it is appropriate to compare them to other socially disadvantaged groups like STs, SCs, and OBCs. It is because the social backwardness of the previously described classes is not due to a transient reason, but rather is something that has persisted in our nation for years and decades to come as a result of generations of enslavement and exploitation, whilst on the other hand, economic backwardness of an individual is something that can be eradicated with time, therefore how can both these sections be put on the same pedestal when it comes to reservations?

When upholding the 103rd Amendment, the court reiterated the drafters’ objective that reservations were never envisioned to be everlasting in Indian society and were only incorporated as a mechanism to bring the society’s weaker segments to the fore as well as provide them equitable and independent sliver of hope. Reservation is an empowering clause that enables the state to establish initiatives for the elevation of the less fortunate members of society, thus according to the decision, this does not constitute a violation of the basic structure.


Many issues have been raised by this reservation for EWS, foremost among them being how long the reservation system will remain in place in our society.  When we talk about social reality of our country, there is no denying that there are poor individuals in our society, even from socially advanced classes, since it is not necessary for an individual who is a part of a socially forward class to be in strong financial standing to have access to all the educational and employment opportunities prospects like many others. Therefore, the government’s primary focus while putting out this concept centered on how to facilitate such individuals while abiding within the parameters of constitutional principles.

I think it’s appropriate for some people to have reservations depending on their economic circumstances, but some have only opposed since in the past, those who didn’t merit them have often obtained reservations, leaving those who deserved behind. Instead, reservations offered on the basis of social backwardness should be altered since social equality is what our country needs to address the caste-based imbalances that lie deep inside it and for which reservations cannot serve as a band-aid. Some of their position has already been elevated, so what our nation really requires right now seems to be merely reservations for individuals who are poor, regardless of their social standing, who cannot readily access the things that the wealthy can.


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