State Of Kerala v. N.M. Thomas (1976 AIR 490)

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  1. Justice A.N. Ray
  2. Justice Hans Raj Khanna
  3. Justice Kuttyil Kurien Mathew
  4. Justice M. Hameedullah Beg
  5. Justice V.R. Krishnaiyer
  6. Justice A.C. Gupta
  7. Justice Syed Murtaza Fazalali


Petitioner- State of Kerala & Anr.

Respondent- N.M. Thomas & Ors.


“You cannot say you have achieved equality until everyone is equal and has equal opportunities.”

Leymah Gbowee

In India, the Constitution is the supreme authority that governs most of the issues. Fundamental rights under the constitution are of paramount importance that are responsible for preserving the rights of the people. Reservation has always been a disputed issue in the country and many scholars and common people have debated over this issue. However, the judiciary has always tried to bring uniformity to in-laws and resolve such altercated issues.

The reservation system in India is a highly debated issue that provides the disadvantaged group of people a representation in fields like education, employment, and politics. The main aim of the reservation principle is to promote social equality by providing special advantages to disadvantaged groups of people in the country. This concept is envisaged under Article 16 of the Constitution of India. Article 16 (1) of the Constitution guarantees equal opportunities to the citizens in matters relating to employment or appointment in any office held by the State. However, the beginning of 1976 has marked the settlement of Articles 14, 15, and 166 of the Constitution to a great extent. 

This case of State of Kerala v. N.M. Thomas[1] is a landmark judgment that has reformed the constitutional perspective on the reservation and it stands equal to Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala[2] and Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India[3] in our constitution. 

Facts of the Case

The case revolves around the Kerala State Subordinate Services. The Kerala State Subordinate Services Rules, 1958, Rule 13A gives that no individual will be qualified for the arrangement of any service or any post except if he had such unique capabilities and has breezed through such exceptional assessments as might be endorsed for that sake in the Special Rules. 

For the advancement of the assistant of the lower division to the higher post of the upper- division agent, the public authority made the unique departmental tests mandatory for a representative to pass. Rule 13A, which was embraced to some degree later, offered a restrictive exception for a time of a long time from passing departmental assessments. 

Nonetheless, later Rule 13AA was presented on 13 January, 1972 which gave a further time of two years to the workers from planned ranks and booked clans to show up for the departmental tests. 

As per the factual matrix of the case, Respondent No. 1, that is, N.M. Thomas finished all the assessments by November 2, 1971. Other respondents, who are individuals from planned ranks and booked clans and who were also lower division representatives working in the Registration Department of the State, were advanced as upper-division assistants even though they had not finished the assessments referenced previously. Respondent No. 1 was not, nonetheless, advanced regardless of the way that he had breezed through the essential assessments. In 1972 out of 51 lower-division agents advanced as upper-division assistants, 34 had a place with booked stations and clans.

Issues of the Case

The following issues are involved in this case:

  • Whether Rule 13AA of Kerala State Subordinate Services Rules, 1958 violative of Article 16 (1) and Article 16(4)?
  • Whether the exclusion permitted Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes to appear for special department tests violative of Article 16 of the Constitution of India? 
  • Examining the extent of Article 16, Article 46 and Article 335 of the Constitution of India. 

Arguments on behalf of the Petitioner

The counsel appearing on behalf of the petitioners argued the following:

  1. The 51 promotions made by the Government’s circular dated January 13, 1972 on a seniority-cum-merit qualification. The larger part went in favor of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. Also, the order dated January 13, 1972, 34 Lower Division Clerks out of 51 who were promoted belonged to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. These 34 clerks were exempted from giving the departmental tests. 
  2. That Article 16 (1) gives effect to Article 14 of the Constitution of India. Both these Articles permit reasonable classification having a connection to the object that is sought to be achieved. 
  3. That Article 16 (1) provides reasonable classification of the employees in matters of employment and thus, the Rule 13AA is not violative of Article 16 of the Constitution. 
  4. That the impugned rules are not only legally valid but they also support a rational classification under Article 16 (1).
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Arguments on behalf of the Respondents

The counsels appearing on behalf of the respondents raised the following contentions:

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

Provisions and Statutes Involved

  1. Article 16 of the Constitution of India, 1950– Equal opportunities in matters of employment
  2. Article 46 of the Constitution of India, 1950– Promotion of education and economic interests of weaker sections of the society including Scheduled castes and Scheduled tribes
  3. Article 335 of the Constitution of India, 1950– Claims of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in relation to services and posts.
  4. Rule 13AA of Kerala State Subordinate Service Rules, 1958– The rule prescribes that when special rules prescribe a test, a temporary exemption for a period of 2 years is allowed from the date of introduction of such rule.   

Judgment of the Case

The judgment was passed by a seven-judge bench on September 19, 1975. The Court expressed that the classification of employees into Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes for permitting an extension of two years was fair and reasonable. Further, Articles 14, 15, and 16 supplement one another, and Articles 14 and 16 (1) provide a fair classification of employees in matters relating to employment. The court added that the classification of employees was based on reasonable differences and the goal behind such differentiation must be that there is no infringement of equality. 

Justice Ray held that the rule of differentiation deals with enacting the laws that differentiate between different persons or things in, unlike circumstances. Further, the circumstances that govern a set of persons may not necessarily be alike as those governing another group of persons, so the question arising out of unequal treatment does not really arise between the persons governed by varying conditions and varying sets of situations. 

The bench, in this case, held that Article 16 (1) allows the State to classify people based on groups or classes on the substantial differential. Hence, the right to equality of opportunity must be read as justifying the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe from the rest of the community for adequate representation in services under the State. 

Thus, the classification of groups from the rest of the communities for the purpose of reservation is just and reasonable because they have already been divided into separate groups because of their social backwardness. In this case, as per the ‘carry forward rule’, the reservation quota came up to 64.4%.

Therefore, the majority decision permits 50% reservation but subject to the approval of the judiciary. Also, the court ruled that the 64.4% reservation was not excessive.  

Cases Referred

  1. State of Gujarat and Anr. v. Shri Ambica Mills Ltd[4]In this case, the Apex Court held that the equal protection of laws is a pledge for protecting equal laws. In this, the court has neither denied the demand for equality nor it has abandoned the legislative right of classification. The court explained that the reasonable classification should be such that it includes all the people who are in similar conditions. 
  2. State of Jammu & Kashmir v. Triloki Nath & Ors[5]In this case, the court said that dealing with the practical issues, a law-making authority must be guided by the realities and the needs. The concept of equality within Article 14 and Article 16 (1) will not be violated if a rule ensuring equality of representation in the services for the unrepresented class is made and such rule satisfies the basis of classification. Article 16 (4) is an explanation to Article 16 (2) which clarifies that classification on the basis of backwardness is not good for the purpose of Article 16 (2), however it stands with Article 16 (1) of the Constitution. 
  3. M.R. Balaji v. State of Mysore[6]In this case, the Supreme Court held that Article 15 (4) does not talk about ‘caste’, but only focuses on ‘classes’. Also, Article 15 (4) only enables the state to make provisions and does not exclude backward classes. Thus, in this case, the court held that special provision should be less than 50% and would completely depend upon the circumstances of the case.
  4. T. Devadasan v. Union of India[7]In this case, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutional validity of the ‘carry forward rule’ which was framed by the Government to regulate the appointment of persons of backward classes in Government services. 
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Analysis of the Judgment

The Apex Court with a majority of 6:1 upheld the constitutional validity of Rule 13AA. The Court has ruled by providing all the possible reasoning for the concept of equality. The court said that equality has different meanings and one of its comprehensive notions is equality of opportunity. The court has given a rational and intelligible judgment in the instant case and explained every aspect that the case could follow. The court has explained that equality of opportunity is not a simple matter and its presence depends on the presence of abilities rather than the absence of disabilities. 

This case was a landmark case and has been a precedent to many other succeeding cases. The judgment of this case was upheld in the case of Akhil Bhartiya Shosit Karmachari Singh v. Union of India[8]. In this case of Akhil Bhartiya, the Apex Court upheld the validity of the Railway Board circular under which reservations for more than fifty-percent posts were made for the candidates belonging to backward classes like Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. 

Thus, the Court in the case of N.M. Thomson ruled that the liability that there was a misuse of power was not a reasonable ground to hold a rule to be bad.  


Thus, the Hon’ble Supreme Court held the Rule 13AA of Kerala State Subordinate Services Rules, 1958 to be valid and the right conferred by Article 16 (1) read along with Articles 14 and Article 155 to be real and effective and not a mere abstract. The most important point held in this case was on the rights guaranteed under Article 14, 15, and 16. These are the most important and vulnerable rights provided by our constitution. According to Justice Krishna Iyer, the first and the foremost caution that should be taken is that reservation must be kept in restraint for the stress of competency. Nobody can extend the scope of the reservation to the extent that even the minimum qualifications are not met for the criteria. So, the aim of the judiciary is not to waste talents in the name of reservation but only to provide a forwardness to the people who have been excluded in the name of caste. Thus, equality should be practical and substantive rather than being on papers and books. A major role should be played by the judiciary in upholding equality and giving it a practical form.

[1] 1976 AIR 490.

[2] AIR 1973 SC 1461.

[3] 1978 AIR 597.

[4] 1974 AIR 1300.

[5] 1974 SCR (1) 771.

[6] 1963 AIR 649.

[7] 1964 AIR 179.

[8] AIR 1981 SC 298.