The case of R.C. Poudyal is related to reservation in the newly constituted legislative assembly in the State of Sikkim and the constitutional validity of such reservations kept juxtapose to Article 15 of the Constitution. Before delving into the factual background of the case, it is vital to understand the history of the Sikkim state and how the case reached the Supreme Court of India.
Facts of the Case | R.C. Poudyal v. Union of India [AIR 1993 SC 1804]
Sikkim was under a Monarchy of hierarchical rulers of the Sangha tribe even after the Indian independence and did not become India’s part till 1973. During the period of early 1970s, the people wanted representation in the government, equal rights as any others and prosperity. This led to the formation of several political parties in the State who claimed to represent the concerns of the people of Sikkim The political parties fought and argued against the monarch trying to convince him to convert the State into a Democracy from Monarchy.
In 1973, the ruler of Sikkim entered into an agreement with the Indian government on one side and the political parties in Sikkim on the other side to accede into the Indian territory, to abide by the Indian Constitution and to convert Sikkim into a democratic State like the rest of the States in India. The election commission of India was given the power to hold elections every 4 years for the election of Prime Minister and other ministers of the government.
According to the new changes in the Indian demography, the Constitution was amended and Article 371F was inserted to the Constitution providing special provisions for the State of Sikkim. Clause ‘f’ of the Article 371F provided powers to the Indian Parliament to make provisions for reservation of seats in the Sikkim legislative assembly for people of Sikkim in scheduled castes and scheduled tribes or other forms of backward people.
Hence, out of the 32 seats in the Sikkim legislative assembly, 12 seats were reserved for the Sikkimese local tribe of Bhutia-Lepcha and 1 seat was reserved for Sangha community which consists of people from the monasteries. Further, it was decided that in the election for the 1 seat of Sanghas, only people belonging to the Sangha community could participate in the election and 1 person will be selected out of those.
Now, the petitioner was a Sikkimese Nepali living in Sikkim and he claimed that reservation in legislative assembly cannot be made on the basis of religion and caste and also that such a high number of reservation is in violation of Article 15 of the Constitution. Further, it was the case of the petitioner that a separate electoral roll for the election of 1 sangha tribe person is arbitrary and discriminatory. Hence, the case reached before the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India.
Issues before the Court
The court framed the following issues to be adjudged:
- Whether a seat in a legislative assembly can be reserved after a State joins the Indian Union on the basis of the religious minority.
- Whether the legislature can make laws to reserve seats far more than that required according to the population of the community in the State.
Judgment and Analysis
The Supreme Court constituted a five-judge bench to adjudge the matter. The majority view was given by Sharma J. on behalf of himself and 3 other judges while S.C. Agrawal J. dissented from the majority. The majority opinion was “negative” for both the issues and His Lordship made it very clear in the first line of the judgment itself.
The first contention made before the court was with respect to whether the Sangha community comes within the meaning of the term religion. The court made a very minute observation in this issue and made several remarks. The court observed that the people of the Sangha community belong to the Buddhism religion and are the worshippers of Lord Buddha and hence, the reservation for the community is a reservation for those who are Buddhists. The argument, at this stage, took another turn and the court delved into the question of whether Buddhism is a religion for the purpose of discrimination under Article 15 of the Constitution.
It was observed that the ruler of Sikkim in 1973 was a Buddhist and followed Buddhism. Hence, a reservation was provided for every amenity to the Sangha community under his rule. However, after the merger of the State with India, such reservation is discriminatory because it is made solely on the basis of religion.