All reservations are not of the same nature. There are two types of reservations, namely, ‘vertical reservations” and “horizontal reservations”. Social Reservation in favour or SCs, STs and OBCs under Article 16(4) of the Constitution of India are “vertical reservations”. Special Reservations in favour of Physically handicapped, Women etc. under Articles 16 (1) or 15 (3) of the Constitution of India are “horizontal reservations”.
Horizontal reservations cut across the vertical reservations – what is called interlocking reservations. To be more precise, suppose 3% of the vacancies are reserved in favour of physically handicapped persons; this would be a reservation relatable to Article 16 (1). The person selected against this quota will be placed in the appropriate category; if he belongs to SC category he will be placed in that quota by making necessary adjustments; similarly, if he belongs to open competition (OC) category he will be placed in that category by making necessary adjustments. Even after providing for these horizontal reservations, the percentage of reservations in favour of the particular category, that is, BC, SC, ST remains – and should remain – the same.
The Hon’ble Supreme Court of India has repeatedly pointed out that the proper and correct course is to first fill up the OC quota (50%) on the basis of merit; then fill up each of the social reservation quotas, i.e. SC, ST and BC; the third step would be to find out how many candidates belonging to special reservations have been selected on the above basis. If the quota fixed for horizontal reservations is already satisfied no further question arises. But if it is not so satisfied, the requisite number of special reservation candidates shall have to be taken and adjusted / accommodated against their respective social reservation categories by deleting the corresponding number of candidates from that category. For example, if 19 posts are reserved for SCs (of which the quota for women is four), 19 SC candidates shall have to be first listed in accordance with merit, from out of the successful eligible candidates. If such list of 19 candidates contains 4 SC woman candidates, then there is no need to disturb the list by including any further SC woman candidate. On the other hand, if the list of 19 SC candidates contains only two woman candidates, then the next two SC woman candidates in accordance with merit will have to be included in the list and corresponding number of candidates from the bottom of such list shall have to be deleted so as to ensure that the final 19 selected SC candidates contain 4 woman SC candidates. But if the list of 19 SC candidates contains more than four woman candidates, selected on own merit, all of them will continue in the list and there is no question of deleting the excess woman candidates on the ground that “SC women” have been selected in excess of the prescribed internal quota of four.
Where a vertical reservation is made in favour of a Backward Class under Article 16 (4), the candidates belonging to such Backward Class, may compete for non-reserved posts and if they are appointed to the non-reserved posts on their own merit, their number will not be counted against the quota reserved for respective Backward Class. Therefore, if the number of BC candidates, who by their own merit, get selected to open competition vacancies, equals or even exceeds the percentage of posts reserved for BC candidates, it cannot be said that the reservation quota for BCs has been filled. The entire reservation quota will be intact and available in addition to those selected under open competition category.
But, the aforesaid principle applicable to vertical (social) reservations will not apply to horizontal (special) reservations. Where a special reservation for women is provided within the social reservation for Scheduled Castes, the proper procedure, as explained above, is first to fill up the quota for Scheduled Castes in order of merit and then find out the number of candidates among them who belong to the special reservation group of ‘Scheduled Caste Women”. If the number of women in such list is equal to or more than the number of special reservation quota, then there is no need for further selection towards the special reservation quota. Only if there is any shortfall, the requisite number of Scheduled Caste Women shall have to be taken by deleting the corresponding number of candidates from the bottom of the list relating to Scheduled Castes. To this extent, horizontal (special) reservation differs from vertical (social) reservation. Thus women selected on merit within the vertical reservation quota will be counted against the horizontal reservation for women.