The Central Educational Institutions Act came into force on 3rd January, 2007. The Act aims to provide for reservation in admission of the students belonging to the Scheduled Castes, the Scheduled Tribes and the Other Backward Classes of citizens, to certain Central Educational Institutions established, maintained or aided by the Central Government. The first Backward commission, in its Report of the Backward Classes Commission, Volume 1, Government of India, 1955, had arrived at the conclusion that the caste system was a major reason for Social backwardness. The Mandal Commission, which was constituted in 1978, identified a total of 3743 castes that constitute and form India’s Backward Classes. The List of the Scheduled Castes recognized in the country is enlisted in the Scheduled Castes Order, 1950 while the Scheduled Tribes Order, 1950 lists out the recognized tribes within the nation.

The 93rd Constitutional amendment inserted a fifth clause to Article 15, a provision by which the state was given the power to enact laws for the advancement of the Scheduled castes, Scheduled Tribes and the Other Backward classes of citizens in the matters including admission in educational institutions. The enactment finds further support from the Directive Principles enshrined in Part IV of the Constitution of India. Article 46 enunciates that the state shall promote the educational and economic interests of the weaker sections of the society, which includes both the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes along with the Other Backward Classes. The enactment thus finds its roots implanted both in the Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles enshrined in the Constitution of India.

The Act under section 4 clearly prescribes that the Act will not apply to (i) Educational Institutions established in the Educational areas (ii) The institutions specified in the scheduled specified in the Act thereto (iii) Minority Educational Institutions established under Article 30 of the Constitution.For the purpose of application of the said enactment, Section 6 of the Act specifies that the Reservation shall begin in the calendar year 2007.

The reservation of seats in Central Education Institutions and its extent is provided under Section 3 of the Act. It provides that out of the annual permitted strength in each branch of study, Fifteen percent (15%) shall be reserved for the Scheduled Caste while Seven and One Half percent (7.5%) shall be reserved for the Scheduled Tribes and Twenty Seven Percent (27%) shall be reserved for Other Backward Classes of the Society.

The Act was amended vide the Central Educational Institutions (Reservation in Admission) Amendment Act, 2012.The Amendment act provides that the seats reserved for OBC, where those reserved for the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe or both taken together fall below a total of 50% of the total seats available,shall be subjected to such short fall.The Amendment further provides that sections 3, 4 and 5 of the act shall stand extended to 6 years from the earlier period prescribed in the principal act.

The Apex Court in the case of Ashok Kumar Thakur v. Union of India & Ors, 2008 (6) SCC 1,observed that “The enactment giving reservation to the Other Backward Classes, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes created mixed response in the society.” The excessive reservation provided to the Other Backward Classes has been criticized and challenged extensively. However this very Court while deciding on the validity of the “27% reservation” provided to the Other Backward Classes had categorically held that the government shall setup the cut off marks in cases of Other Backward Classes not lower than 10 marks below the general category, thus providing a peaceful end to all the deliberations on the matter.

Judge Lauterpacht of the International Court of Justice described the importance of equality in the following words:“The claims of equality before the law is in substantial sense the most fundamental of the rights of man. It occupies the first place in most written constitutions. It is the starting point of all liberties.”Reservation, as the Court observed, is one of the many tools that are used to preserve and promote the essence of equality so that the disadvantaged groups can be brought into the forefront of civil life. There is a general consensus that ensuring education to the weaker sections of the society is and will remain a duty of utmost importance to a welfare state and the Parliament through the enactment of the said act has attempted to fulfill this duty.