Critical Analysis of the Case State of Kerala v N.M. Thomas

Critical Analysis of Case NM Thomas v State of Kerala 1976 SCR (1) 906


A common man generally views the concept of reservation and concept of equality as two sides of coin. Having a narrow and inelastic view of non-representational concepts in the interpretation of law might be plague.

Thus, the following article will explain the relationship laid down in the State of Kerala v NM Thomas[1] case between reservation for backward classes, the meaning of equality of opportunity in employment and part of vittles’ outside of composition of Art. 16 of the constitution.

Brief Facts of the case

Under the Kerala State and Subordinate Services Rules, 1958 special and departmental tests were to be passed for creation of promotion. Rule 13-A still handed for temporary impunity to all from similar tests and permitted creation of promotion till also. However, for SCs and STs, a time period of two years was provided for them to pass the tests and they were promoted, regardless of not having passed the test. Impugned by the Rule 13-AA nonetheless empowered the State Government to further exempt for a specified period members of the SC’s and ST’s already in services from passing the test. For SC’s & ST’s, the time period was extended to two redundant years. The respondent had passed the qualifying test however out of 51 vacuities, 34 were filled up by SC members who had not passed the test. However, the promotions were based on seniority and all those promoted were senior to the respondent. This is challenged as discriminatory under Article 16(1) since Article 16 permits reservation only under Article 16(4) but this wasn’t reservation under Article 16(4) and these classes were being given special treatment outside of Article 16(4) which goes against what is mentioned in Art. 16(1) and 16(2).

Therefore, the main conflict of the case is: is reservation in place of employment outside of Article 16(4) constitutional ?

Issues Framed and decided by the court

  • Whether 16(4) is a particular aspect of 16(1) or just an exception?
  • Whether granting SC’s and ST’s preferential treatment outside of Art. 16(4) is violative of 16(1) and Art. 16(2)?
  • Interpretating the extent of Art. 16, Art. 46, and Art. 335 of the Constitution of India.

Contentions of the Parties

Petitioner’s Contention

  1. That Art. 16 (1) gives effect to Art. 14 of the Constitution of India. Both these Articles permit reasonable classification having a connection to the object that is sought to be accomplished.
  2. That Art. 16 (1) provides reasonable bracket of the workers in matters of employment and therefore, the Rule 13AA is not violative of Art. 16 of the Constitution.
  3. That the impugned rules are not only legally valid but also they support a rational bracket under Art. 16 (1).

Respondent’s Contention

  1. That, Art. 16 (1) is absolute as it guarantees right to employment and appointment to every citizen of the nation.
  2. That, Art. 16 (1) of the constitution is inclusive of issues relating to former as well as after admission. Altogether, there must be equal opportunity in terms of appointment, creation of promotion, termination of employment, and payment of pension.
  3. That, Art. 16 (4) is an exception to Art. 16 (1) of the Constitution. Also, Rule 13AA is violative of Art. 16 (1) and must be declared unconstitutional.

Court’s observation

The Supreme Court with a majority of 6:1 on September 19, 1975 upheld the constitutional validity of Rule 13AA. The Court expressed that the classification of workers into SC’s and ST’s for permitting an extension of two years was justifiable and reasonable. Further, Art’s 14, 15, and 16 add on to one another, and Art. 14 and Art. 16 (1) give a fair bracket of workers in matters relating to employment. The court added that the bracket of workers was based on substantial differential and the goal behind such differentiation must be so that there is no infringement of equality. The bench, in this case, held that Art. 16 (1) allows the State to classify people grounded on groups or classes on the substantial differential. Therefore, the bracket of groups from the rest of the communities for the purpose of reservation is just and reasonable because they have formally been divided into distinct groups because of their social backwardness.

The court further observed that: “the protection of backward classes of citizens may bear appointment of members of backward classes in State services that consideration, Although, was not obviously considered necessary in the case of admission into an educational institution and that may well be the reason for the elision from Art. 29 of a clause similar to clause (4) of Art. 16.”

Social Impact of the case

The case proves to be a corner judgement when agitating reservation for the backward classes in creation of promotions in government jobs. Hence, the Court in this case ruled that the liability that there was a abuse of power was not a reasonable ground to hold a rule to be worse. Any affirmative action for “backward classes” was not at odds with the constitutional commitment to equality of opportunity, but consistent.


Nothing can extend the array of the reservation to the extent that indeed the minimal qualifications are not met for the criteria. The rights under the Art. 15(1), 16(1) and 29 were an individual rights. That group-grounded policies were constitutional only  and only if they came within a specific, enabling provisions, like Art. 16(4).


The aim of our judiciary is not to waste bents in the name of reservation but only to give a forwardness to the people who have been barred in the name of caste. Therefore, equality should be practical and substantial rather than being on papers and books. A major part should be played by the judiciary in upholding equality under Article 14 and giving it a more pragmatic form. Hence, the Hon’ble Supreme Court held the Rule 13AA of Kerala State Subordinate Services Rules, 1958 to be valid and the right conferred by Art. 16 (1) read along with Art. 14 and Art. 155 to be real and effective and not an abstract thing.

[1] 1976 AIR 490

Author: Ashish Kumar,
Lovely Professional University and Second Year BALLB (Hons.)

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