A five-judge constitutional bench headed by Chief Justice Altamas Kabir said it cannot take a contrary view expressed in 1992 by a nine-judge bench in the Indra Sawhney case, also known as the Mandal case, that there could be no compromise with merit at the super speciality stage.
"We cannot take a different view, even though it has been suggested that such an observation (of Mandal verdict) was not binding, being obiter in nature.
"We cannot ascribe to such a view since the very concept of reservation implies mediocrity and we will have to take note of the caution indicated in Indra Sawhney's case," the bench also comprising Justices S S Nijjar, Ranjan Gogoi, M Y Eqbal and Vikramajit Sen said in a unanimous judgement.
Referring to various judgements including that of the Mandal case, it said, "We impress upon the Central and State Governments to take appropriate steps in accordance with the views expressed in Indra Sawhney's case and in this case, as also the other decisions referred to above, keeping in mind the provisions of Article 335 (claims of SC/ST to service and posts) of the Constitution."
The court pronounced its verdict on the plea of the Faculty Association of AIIMS against a Delhi High Court judgement.
The Faculty Association had contended that there cannot be any reservation for faculty posts to speciality and super speciality faculty courses in AIIMS.
AIIMS and the Centre had however taken a contrary stand and had pleaded that the reservation be given to SC/STs and Backward classes candidates in appointment to assistant professors and other senior posts in speciality and super speciality courses.
Mandal on merit
Dealing with the constitutional right of SC/STs in matter of services and employment, the nine-judge bench in the Mandal verdict had said, "While on Article 335, we are of the opinion that there are certain services and positions where either on account of the nature of duties attached to them or the level (in the hierarchy) at which they obtain, merit as explained herein above, alone counts.
"In such situations, it may not be advisable to provide for reservations. For example, technical posts in research and development organisations/departments/ institutions, in specialities and super specialities in medicine, engineering and other such courses in physical sciences and mathematics, in defence services and in the establishments connected therewith."
Writing the verdict, Justice Kabir said, "...the issue raised regarding reservation at the super speciality level has already been considered in Indra Sawhney's case by a nine-judge Bench of this Court. Having regard to such decision, we are not inclined to take any view other than the view expressed ...on the issue."
No compromise at super speciality stage
Referring to various case laws, the bench said, "it was categorically held that there could be no compromise with merit at the super speciality stage...".
It said the Indra Sawhney verdict, which favoured reservation to "redeem" the constitutional promise of social justice, at the same time had a word of caution. "...the Nine-Judge Bench while discussing the provisions of Article 335 also observed that there were certain services and posts where either on account of the nature of duties attached to them or the level in the hierarchy at which they stood, merit alone counts. In such situations, it cannot be advised to provide for reservations," the bench said.
In later part of that judgement, it was made "even more clear" that "in certain services in respect of certain posts" the rule of reservation was not advisable and the fields included "posts in super speciality in medicine, engineering and other scientific and technical posts", it said, adding that such observations cannot be brushed aside.