In a verdict on 22nd April 2020, a five-judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court quashed Andhra Pradesh Government’s Order No. 3 providing 100% reservation to Scheduled Tribe (ST) candidates for the posts of teachers in schools situated in Scheduled Areas. The core argument, as expected, was reiterating the Indra Sawhney vs Union of India judgement, which capped reservations at 50%. It is important to note that the Constitution Bench has also interpreted its judgement prospectively not “retrospectively” and held that the existing appointments made in excess of 50% reservation will survive but will cease to be effective in the future, providing much needed relief to the tribal teachers who have already been appointed.
This wasn’t the first time that the Andhra Pradesh government has issued such an order. In November 1986, then Governor of Andhra Pradesh had also issued a similar order which was quashed by the Andhra Pradesh Administrative Tribunal in 1989. A challenge to the tribunal’s order in the high court was later withdrawn by the government. However, during N. Chandrababu Naidu’s tenure in January 2000, the State Government issued another similar order, through which 33% seats were reserved for women. The government order said the reservation was “to promote educational development of tribals, to solve the phenomenal absenteeism of teachers in the schools situated in Scheduled Areas and with a view to protect the interests of local tribals”. This order was upheld by the AP High Court and the recent Supreme Court verdict is in response to the appeals filed by a certain Chebrolu L. Prasad against the AP High Court order.
The judgement received criticism from several quarters of the civil society. Experts pointed out the strong statutory framework of the Fifth Schedule, also described as a ‘Constitution within the Constitution’, and invoked Article 46 of the Directive Principles, which invokes the State to promote with special care the educational and economic interests of the weaker sections and, in particular, the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, and protect them from social injustice and all forms of exploitation.
The objective, experts say, of 100% reservation is to solve the phenomenal absenteeism in these far-flung tribal hamlet schools and that the appointment of local tribals exclusively as teachers was the proposed remedy to overcome the problem of absenteeism and to sub-serve the educational development of Adivasi school children. Ramarao Dora from the Adivasi JAC in Paderu said, “Can it (the SC) not appreciate the simple fact that for certain positions like that of teachers, an Adivasi teacher familiar with the culture and customs of fellow tribals will be in a better position than a non-tribal counterpart to communicate with the Adivasi parents and children? That he or she will be more than willing to reside in the Adivasi villages and share their living in a harmonious manner?”
Recently, leaders of the Adivasi JAC and the G.O. No. 3 Sadhana Committee gave a call for bandh on June 9th. The Adivasi Employees and Teachers’ Associations, Girijana Sankshema Sangham and Adivasi Hakkula Sangham had staged a protest earlier at Buttaigudem, Polavaram mandals seeking revision as per the G.O.
In this context, numerous meetings were held by A.P. Legislative Committee for Tribal Welfare Chairman and Polavaram MLA Tellam Balaraju, who promised to raise the issue with Chief Minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy and Tribal Welfare Minister P. Pushpa Srivani.
Political parties have demanded that the State Government file a review petition in the Supreme Court in order to safeguard the constitutional rights and special provisions meant for Adivasis in the Fifth Schedule Areas.