The Math Behind Reservation in Government Jobs

There are two kinds of roster systems which are now prevalent for recruiting government employees, writes Abhinav Chandrachud.
People wait at a window of a government office in Guwahati, Assam, on Aug. 31, 2019. (Photographer: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg)
People wait at a window of a government office in Guwahati, Assam, on Aug. 31, 2019. (Photographer: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg)

In a famous case decided in 1992 [Indra Sawhney v. Union of India], the Supreme Court had said that reservation cannot exceed 50% of the total number of available seats. However, it had also opined in that case that the 50% cap had to be calculated on the basis of the number of vacancies arising in the year and not on the basis of the total strength of the cadre.

The 50% Rule

For example, let’s say that there are 100 sanctioned posts in a government department, of which 20 are supposed to be reserved. Let’s say that as of now, none of the seats are occupied by members of the backward classes. Assume that 20 vacancies are advertised this year in the department. If the 50% cap were to be calculated on the basis of the strength of the cadre, then all 20 vacancies could go to backward class candidates, amounting to 100% reservation for that year. However, the Supreme Court in Indra Sawhney’s case had held that the 50% cap would have to be calculated on the basis of the total vacancies arising in any year, not the strength of the cadre. In other words, only 10 seats can be reserved for backward class candidates this year out of the 20 vacancies that have arisen this year.

In 1995, the Supreme Court diluted this principle in R.K. Sabharwal v. State of Punjab and held that it would not apply to a “roster system”. This requires an example. Let’s say that there are 15 posts in a government department of which 6 are reserved for backward class candidates. The reserved posts are at serial numbers 4, 7, 8, 12, 14 and 15 of the roster. Let’s assume that all 15 seats have been filled with general and reserved candidates in the appropriate numbers. In other words, all the initial appointments have been made. Now, let’s assume that there is a vacancy which subsequently arises at serial numbers 4, 7, and 8 of the roster this year. All of these seats are reserved in the roster. Therefore, they will have to be filled by backward class candidates. This is despite the fact that this would theoretically mean that there will be 100% reservation this year. However, reservation is not permissible if the entire cadre comprises of only a single post.

The 200-Point Roster

Broadly speaking, there are two kinds of roster systems which are now prevalent for recruiting government employees: the “200-point roster” and the “13-point roster”. The 200-point roster system applies to cadres in which there are 14 or more employees, while the 13-point roster applies where there are between 2-13 employees in the cadre.

The table below sets out how the 200-point roster system is composed in a department of, say, 21 employees. The percentage of reservation is: 15% (SC), 7.5% (ST), 27% (OBC) and 10% for economically weaker sections or “EWS”. These figures are divided by 100, and then multiples are worked out until one of these categories gets a complete number, upon which it obtains a reserved seat. If two categories obtain a complete number at the same time, then one of them is accommodated on the previous seat (called ‘squeezing’) or next seat. For instance, at the 20th position of the 200-point roster, both SC and EWS become complete numbers. In this case, the 20th seat is earmarked for an SC, while the 21st seat is for EWS.

For instance, let’s take the example of the SC category, which starts off with the number 0.15 [15/100]. Since the 7th multiple of 0.15 is a complete number [15/100 x 7 = 1.05], the 7th seat on the roster is reserved for SCs. The first three seats in this system are unreserved (UR). This method is called the “200 point” roster because one entire loop or pattern is complete at the 200th post (i.e., at the 200th post, none of the numbers have any fractions), and the entire pattern repeats itself starting with the 201st post. What is important is that each seat is earmarked for a certain category and recruitments to those seats can only be made in accordance with the category for which they are earmarked.

Following this system ensures that SC, ST, OBC and EWS categories get a near perfect distribution of 15%, 7.5%, 27% and 10% of the available seats.

Out of 200 seats, each category gets the following number of seats: 30 (SC), 15 (ST), 54 (OBC) and 20 (EWS).

This can be explained with the following example. Let’s assume that a government department has 21 employees in it. Since it has more than 13 employees, the 200-point roster applies to it. The 21 employees of the government will be recruited in the following pattern:

  1. UR
  2. UR
  3. UR
  4. OBC
  5. UR
  6. UR
  7. SC
  8. OBC
  9. UR
  10. EWS
  11. UR
  12. OBC
  13. UR
  14. ST
  15. SC
  16. OBC
  17. UR
  18. UR
  19. OBC
  20. SC
  21. EWS

If the employees at serial numbers 4, 7, 10 and 12 of the roster all retire this year, the vacancies will have to be filled up by the categories for which these seats have been earmarked (i.e., OBC, SC, EWS, OBC).

The ‘L-Shaped’ Loop

In the 200-point roster, all the reserved categories get seats by the 14th post. In other words, the last reserved category to get a seat is ST which gets a post at the 14th point in the roster. This means that the 200-point roster cannot work in a government department which has 13 employees or less. For example, if a government department has only three employees in it, then if the 200-point roster were to be followed, all the posts would go to the unreserved category and there would be no reservation. In order to remedy this problem, the “13-point” roster system is followed for departments which have 13 employees or less.

The table that follows explains how the 13-point roster system works. All employees in the 13-point roster are recruited in the same pattern as the first 14 points of the 200-point roster, i.e., UR, UR, UR, OBC, UR, UR, SC, OBC, UR, EWS, UR, OBC, UR, ST, after which the pattern repeats itself (unlike the 200-point roster where the pattern repeats itself at the 201st point in the roster). Since there can be no reservation for a single post cadre, the 13 point roster system only applies for cadres of between 2-13 employees.

This can be explained with the following example. Let’s assume that there is a government department which has 5 employees in it. The five employees will be recruited on the basis of the shaded portion of the 13-point roster in the table below. The pattern will repeat itself after every 14 appointments. So, for example, the 5th vacancy will be recruited from the EWS category, the 9th vacancy from the ST category, and the 10th vacancy from the UR category. This is called an “L” shaped roster because the initial recruitments are made in the vertical pattern and the subsequent appointments follow the horizontal pattern (forming the shape “L”), until the loop repeats itself. Since there are only 5 employees, in order to maintain the 50% rule, at no point in time can more than 2 employees belong to the reserved categories. Unlike the 200-point roster, reservation takes place by rotation and posts are not earmarked for any category.

The problem with the 13-point roster is that reserved categories have to wait a long time in order to get their turn.

In the 5-employee example given above, an SC candidate will be entitled to reservation when the 2nd vacancy arises, while an ST candidate will have to wait until the 9th vacancy. This may take a long time.

Teaching Departments

There has recently been some controversy over the application of the 13-point roster system in teaching departments at universities run by the central government. The question which arose some years back was: how should the 50% rule be calculated in such universities – with all the teaching departments taken together, or each department separately?

For instance, let’s assume that a central government university has 20 teaching departments (e.g., history, sociology, economics, etc.), and each department has five teachers in it. The total number of teachers in the university is therefore 100. If all the departments taken together are to be considered to be one unit for the purpose of the 50% rule, then there can be as many as 50 reserved positions. The reserved category teachers might be distributed unevenly through the different departments, e.g., some departments might have 5 reserved teachers (amounting to 100% reservation in that department), while others might have none. The 200-point roster will apply since the entire unit has over 13 employees.

However, if each department is to be treated as a unit separately for the purpose of the 50% rule, then the number of reserved posts will be 40: since there are only 5 teachers in each department, the number of reserved posts in each department can’t exceed 2. In other words, if each department is treated as a unit for the purpose of the 50% rule, then the total number of reserved positions will be 20 x 2 = 40. Further, since each department has less than 14 employees, the 13-point roster will apply, which means that reserved categories will have to wait a long time in order to get appointed.

In 2017, the Allahabad High Court in Vivekanand Tiwari v. Union of India held that each department has to be treated as a unit for the purpose of the 50% rule. As a result of this, the University Grants Commission imposed the 13-point roster instead of the 200-point roster for recruitment at central government universities. However, the government issued an ordinance and later a statute saying that each central government educational institution has to be treated as a unit for the purpose of reservation, essentially overruling the Allahabad High Court judgment. The Supreme Court has not yet opined on the validity of this new law.

Abhinav Chandrachud is an advocate at the Bombay High Court and the author of Republic of Religion: The Rise and Fall of Colonial Secularism in India (Penguin 2020).

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of BloombergQuint or its editorial team.

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