‘Supreme Court on horizontal, vertical quotas work’


The Supreme Court’s recent judgement by a three-judge Bench in Saurav Yadav v State of Uttar Pradesh is a significant addition to the discourse on reservations. The interlocking of the two types of reservation throws up a host of questions on how certain groups are to be identified.


  • Understanding two types of Reservation

Vertical reservation

  • Reservation for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, and Other Backward Classes is referred to as vertical reservation.
  • It applies separately for each of the groups specified under the law.

Horizontal reservation

  • Horizontal reservation refers to the equal opportunity provided to other categories of beneficiaries such as women, veterans, the transgender community, and individuals with disabilities, cutting through the vertical categories.

Horizontal reservations cut across the vertical reservations – the Supreme Court called it as “interlocking reservations” in Indra Sawhney and Others v Union of India (1992).

How the two categories of reservation are applied together?

  • OBC and SC are vertical reservation categories, while Female is a horizontal reservation category.
  • The horizontal quota is applied separately to each vertical category.
  • For example, if women have 40% horizontal quota, then 40% of the selected candidates will have to necessarily be women in each vertical quota category.
  • Same percentage of all selected SC candidates will have to be women and also the unreserved or general category will have to be women, and so on.

In a subsequent case, the Supreme Court further clarified the issue thus: For example, if there are 200 vacancies and 15% is the vertical reservation for SCs and 30% is the horizontal reservation for women, the proper description of the number of posts reserved for SCs should be: “For SC: 30 posts, of which nine posts (30 per cent of 30) are for women”.

What is the issue with both of them using together?

  • The interlocking of the two types of reservation throws up a host of questions on how certain groups are to be identified. For example,
    • Would an SC woman be put in the category of women or SC?
    • Since quotas are fixed in percentages, what percentage of quota would be attributed to each?

The case

  • In the instant case, two candidates, one belonging to the OBC-Female and another belonging to the SC-Female participated in the selection process in 2013 for filling up posts of constables in Uttar Pradesh police.
  • Their grievance was that candidates with marks lower than what they secured had been selected in General Female category disregarding their claim.
  • Sonam Tomar and Rita Rani had secured 276.5949 and 233.1908 marks respectively. They had applied under the categories of OBC-Female and SC-Female respectively.
  • In the General-Female category, the last qualifying candidate had secured 274.8298 marks, a score that was lower than Tomar’s.
  • The question is if the criterion for making selections is “merit”, should Tomar be selected under General-Female quota instead of the OBC-Female category for having secured a higher score?

What the court decided?

  • The court ruled that if a person belonging to an intersection of vertical-horizontal reserved category had secured scores high enough to qualify without the vertical reservation, the person would be counted as qualifying without the vertical reservation, and cannot be excluded from the horizontal quota in the general category.
  • If a person in the SC category secures a higher score than the cut-off for the general category, the person would be counted as having qualified under the general category instead of the SC quota.

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