The Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled that 100% reservation for teachers from Scheduled Tribes category at schools in scheduled areas was constitutionally invalid, PTI reported.

A five-judge Constitution Bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra and comprising Justices Indira Banerjee, Vineet Saran, MR Shah and Aniruddha Bose quashed a January 2000 order passed by the then governor of erstwhile Andhra Pradesh providing 100% reservation to tribal candidates in teacher posts in scheduled areas. The court said the order was “arbitrary” and not permissible under the Constitution. It also imposed a penalty of Rs 5 lakh on the Andhra Pradesh and Telangana governments and sought an explanation for surpassing the 50% ceiling on quotas.

The court referred to the 1992 judgement of Indra Sawhney vs Union Of India, which reinforced the 50% ceiling on quotas. Also known as the Mandal case verdict, it had placed certain restrictions on the Centre to ensure that a certain quota of college seats and jobs were reserved. The court had also held that reservations cannot be based on the economic criterion alone.

The courts have in the past asserted that the 50% limit is essential to protect equality. This was because, the courts have argued, when reservations cross 50%, it upsets the balance between the reserved and the unreserved categories, thereby having an impact on the promise of equality guaranteed under the Constitution.

According to the 1992 verdict, to exceed the 50% cap, there must be a special case. “There were no such extraordinary circumstances to provide a 100% reservation in scheduled areas,” the court said on Wednesday. “It is an obnoxious idea that tribals only should teach the tribals. When there are other local residents, why they cannot teach is not understandable.”

“The action defies logic and is arbitrary. Merit cannot be denied in toto by providing reservations,” the bench said. It called the erstwhile Andhra Pradesh government’s order “arbitrary, illegal, impermissible, and unconstitutional”.

The order has also infringed upon the rights of people belonging to Scheduled Caste, Other Backward Classes, Open Category and also those Scheduled Tribes not living in the scheduled areas, the court added.

The court added that it would not set aside the teacher appointments that have already been made as long as the state governments do not bring in a similar notification again. The Andhra Pradesh government had brought in a similar order in 1986 but it was quashed by the State Administrative Tribunal. An appeal before the Supreme Court was withdrawn in 1998.

“After withdrawal of the appeal from this Court, it was expected of the erstwhile State of Andhra Pradesh not to resort to such illegality of providing 100% reservation once again,” the court said. “But instead, it issued G.O. Ms. No.3 of 2000, which was equally impermissible… It was least expected from the functionary like Government to act in aforesaid manner as they were bound by the dictum laid down by this Court in Indra Sawhney… and other decisions holding that the limit of reservation not to exceed 50%. There was no rhyme or reason with the State Government to resort to 100% reservation.”

The Supreme Court also pointed to concerns that reservation benefits did not reach the backward class people who truly deserve them. It said it was the government’s duty to review the process to make sure the benefits “trickle down and are not usurped by” the affluent people among Other Backward Classes or the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, according to The Indian Express.

“In our opinion, it was rightly urged by [senior advocate] Dr Rajeev Dhavan that the Government is required to revise the lists [of people entitled for reservation],” the judges said. “It can be done presently without disturbing the percentage of reservation so that benefits trickle down to the needy and are not usurped by those classes who have come up after obtaining the benefits for the last 70 years or after their inclusion in the list.”

“We have not been able to eradicate untouchability in the real sense so far and to provide safety and security to downtrodden class and to ensure that their rights are preserved and protected, and they equally enjoy frugal comforts of life,” the court added.