R.C. Poudyal vs. Union of India, AIR 1993 SC 1804

Author: Sulesh Choudhary (University Five Year Law College, University of Rajasthan


In the present case, the constitutional validity of the reservation system was questioned which was in practice from earlier in the state of Sikkim during the reign of King Chogyal when Sikkin was under a hierarchical monarchy. Initially, the reservation system was introduced as a measure to resolve the conflict between the two communities i.e, Bhutia Lepchas who were the original inhabitants of Sikkim, and the Nepali Sikkimese people who migrated in large numbers to Assam in the 19th century. In 1974, when Sikkim became a state under the Union of India, the Parliament considering the peculiar history of the state decided to adopt a similar system of reservation. The Petitioner, a Nepali Sikkimese challenged this reservation as it was being made based on religion and was hence violative of the Article 15 of the Constitution of India.

Keywords: Article 371 F, Article 2, Proportional representation, Judicial review, Secularism, Doctrine of Basic Structure

Judgement Cause TitleR.C. Poudyal vs. Union of India
Case Number1993 SCR (1) 891
Judgement DateFebruary 10, 1993
CourtSupreme Court of India
Citation1993 SCR (1) 891
Legal Provisions InvolvedConstitution of India- Arts. 2,15,325,371F

The case of R.C. Poudyal and Anr. Etc. vs Union Of India and Ors. Etc. was originally filed as a writ petition in the High Court of Sikkim in 1982, challenging the constitutional validity of certain provisions of the Representation of People Act, 1950 and 1951 relating to the reservation of seats in the Legislative Assembly of Sikkim. The case was later transferred to the Supreme Court of India under Article 139A of the Constitution of India.

The background of the case relates to the accession of Sikkim into the Indian Union in 1975 as the 22nd state, after the abolition of monarchy through a unanimous resolution of the Sikkim Assembly. Article 371F was inserted in the Constitution to accommodate certain historical aspects in the evolution of Sikkim’s political institutions. This included provisions for the reservation of seats in the Sikkim Assembly for different ethnic and religious groups – 12 seats out of 32 for Sikkimese of Bhutia-Lepcha origin and 1 seat for the Sangha (Buddhist monasteries).

The petitioners, who were Sikkimese of Nepali origin, challenged these reservations as unconstitutional and violative of principles of democracy, republicanism, and secularism under the Indian Constitution. They contended that the extent of reservation for Bhutia-Lepchas was disproportionate to their population share. The reservation for the Sangha on purely religious considerations with a separate electoral roll was also challenged.

On behalf of the respondents, it was argued that in light of the historical background and to prevent ethnic tensions, these accommodations were transitional provisions justified under Article 371F. Issues of justiciability, the scope of Parliament’s power under Article 2, and the interpretation of Article 371F including the non-obstante clause also arose for consideration.


Post-19th century, a lot of Nepali immigrants started residing in Sikkim changing their demographic profile. Bhutia Lepchas, the indigenous inhabitants were concerned regarding the marginalization of their representation due to the increasing number of immigrants within the state. The state Sikkim, was under a hierarchical monarchy ruled by the King named Chogyal before 1974. The King to resolve the conflicts created councils to distribute the power among the communities.

The earlier system provided for the designation of 16 seats out of the 32-member Legislative Assembly to be particularly reserved for Bhutia Lepchas. However several political parties in the state demanded greater democracy leading to the signing of a tripartite agreement whereby Sikkim acceded to India as its 22nd state. Sikkim became a part of the Union of India, that is, a state through Article 2 of the Constitution by the 36th constitutional amendment alongside the insertion of Article 371F, which listed special provisions for the state keeping in mind its peculiar history. Indian Parliament followed the same arrangement and by an amendment to the Representation of People’s Act,1951 reserved 12 seats for the Bhutia Lepchas,1 seat for Buddhist Sanghas,2 seats for Scheduled Castes, and the remaining 17 seats for the General Category.

    • Whether the Parliament allowed to make any such reservations while creating any new states under Article 2?
    • can the legislature enact such laws to reserve seats that are not in proportion to the population of the state and are considerably larger in number as compared to the population?
    • Whether such provisions of reservations made by the Parliament were violative of the principle of secularism?
    • Whether the judiciary have the power to review the conditions under which a new state is admitted into the Union?
    • The counsels for Petitioner / Appellant submitted that apart from the power’s invalidity, its exercise in the extent of reservations made for Bhutias-Lepchas has the effect of diminishing correspondingly the value of votes of Sikkimese of Nepali origin. This destroys equality and democratic principles. Clauses (1) and (2) of Article 170 provide for not more than 500 members for a state assembly, chosen by direct election from territorial constituencies.
    • It was submitted that the powers given under Article 2 of the constitution are subject to the basic structure doctrine as established in the Keshvanand Bharti case.
    • The petitioners have not challenged the validity of the Constitution (36th Amendment) Act, 1975 inserting Article 371-F. It was contended Article 371-F should be construed consistently with the general philosophy of democracy and secularism in the Constitution. The provisions in the 1976 and 1980 Acts providing 12 seats reservation for Sikkimese of Bhutia and Lepcha origin and one seat for Sanghas were challenged as falling outside Articles 371-F and violating Articles 332, 14, 15, and 325. Reservation for Sanghas amounted to a separate religious electorate, violating the principle of secularism incorporated under Article 15. Alternatively, if Article 371F is widely interpreted, it would be unconstitutional violating basic constitutional features.
    • It was submitted that 38% seats in the State Legislative Assembly were reserved only for 20% population, violating principles of fair representation. Disproportionate reservation fails to ensure adequate representation as per Articles 330 and 332.
    • The counsels for Respondent submitted that the writ petitions are not maintainable as the dispute raised is political and the issues are not justiciable. Acquiring fresh territories is an inherent attribute of sovereignty which can be done through conquest, treaty, or other means on conditions the sovereign deems necessary. Any questions relating to this entirely lie in the political realm and are not amenable to the court’s jurisdiction.
    • Referring to Articles 2 and 4 of the Constitution, it was contended that admission into the Union of India is permissible without a constitutional amendment and the terms and conditions of such admission are not open to court’s scrutiny. Article 371F must be respected and the impugned amendments to the Representation of the People Acts must be held valid due to clause (f) of Article 371F.


Constitution of India

Article 2. Admission or establishment of new States

Parliament may by law admit into the Union, or establish, new States on such terms and conditions, as it thinks fit.

Article 15. Prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex, or place of birth

(1) The State shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth, or any of them.

Article 325. No person to be ineligible for inclusion in, or to claim to be included in a special, electoral roll on grounds of religion, race, caste, or sex

There shall be one general electoral roll for every territorial constituency for election to either House of Parliament or the House or House of the Legislature of a State and no person shall be ineligible for inclusion in any such roll or claim to be included in any special electoral roll for any such constituency on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex or any of them.

Article 371 F. Special provisions concerning the State of Sikkim

Notwithstanding anything in this Constitution,–

(f) Parliament may, for the purpose of protecting the rights and interests of the different sections of the population of Sikkim make provision for the number of seats in the Legislative Assembly of the State of Sikkim which may be filled by candidates belonging to such sections and for the delimitation of the Assembly constituencies from which candidates belonging to such sections alone may stand for election to the Legislative Assembly of the State of Sikkim.


The Supreme Court addressed the legality of reservations for ethnic groups in Sikkim’s legislative assembly.The majority opinion of the Court hinged on the observation that in Sikkim, the Sangha community had historically played an active role in the sociopolitical discourse. This historical context was deemed crucial in understanding the community’s significance within Sikkim’s fabric. The Court acknowledged that the Sanghas were not merely a religious identity but also held political relevance. Justice Sharma’s minority opinion is particularly significant. He raised concerns about the potential impact of separate electorates on the democratic foundation of the country.

The creation of separate electorates, according to Justice Sharma, could undermine the principles of equal representation and democratic participation.

The Court held that while Article 2 granted broad powers to the Parliament, such authority was not immune from review. The Basic Structure doctrine, already established, limited the Parliament’s discretion. Additionally, the Attorney General argued that Article 371F, with its nonstate clause, exempted Sikkim from other constitutional provisions. Nevertheless, this argument was flawed, as the Parliament’s authority could not override fundamental constitutional principles. Thus, the judiciary possesses the necessary power to scrutinize the conditions for admitting a state, especially when inconsistent with existing provisions.

The Court further clarified the implications of Article 2, emphasizing that a newly admitted state cannot be entirely equal to existing states within the Union. While the Parliament possesses the authority to admit states based on specific conditions, these conditions must align with the established constitutional framework. The term “alien system” was subject to scrutiny, as its vagueness raised concerns. Such ambiguity risks subjective interpretation on an ad hoc basis, potentially leading to discriminatory outcomes.

While acknowledging Sikkim’s unique context, the purpose behind electoral law changes was to foster political progress and prevent demographic dominance. However, the minority view, expressed by L.M. Sharma, C.J.I., emphasized the importance of maintaining a ratio between seats and population as per Article 330(2) and Article 332(3). Reservations aim for equal status, but this specific reservation may not address inadequate representation. Flexible provisions allow broader discretion to achieve proportionate representation, avoiding excessive favoritism and potential inequality. The majoritarian opinion held that Article 371F did not violate the Basic Structure of the Indian Constitution.


  1. While the Parliament has powers under Article 2, they are subject to the basic structure doctrine. The judiciary has the power to review Article 2 admissions within the basic structure limits. Sikkim’s reservation violates the principle of secularism.
  2. The court held that the power of the Parliament to admit new states under Article 2 is subject to judicial review and not unlimited.
  3. The Basic Structure doctrine limits Parliament’s power to make changes that go against the structure of the Constitution.
  4. The judiciary has the authority to review the conditions under which a new state gets admitted into the Union.
    • Newly admitted states can’t deviate from the constitutional framework. Vagueness in an “alien system” allows scope for discrimination.The court emphasized the historical background of Sikkim and its accession to India, including the concerns of different communities in the state.
    • The reservations made by the Parliament were questioned on the grounds of discrimination based on religion, violating Article 15 of the Constitution.The court discussed the scope of the term “on such terms and conditions as it deems fit” mentioned in Article 2, clarifying that it does not grant unfettered power to the Parliament.
    • The court highlighted the need for the judiciary to have significant power to review the conditions of admission for new states to ensure consistency with existing constitutional provisions.


Religion undeniably plays a pivotal role in a state’s political discourse. Attempting to disentangle politics from religion proves implausible, as they are inherently intertwined. The Court’s reliance on historical circumstances to bolster an otherwise flawed argument is questionable. This approach opens the door for all newly admitted states to employ similar defenses based on religion.

While the arrangement in question pertains specifically to Sikkim, considering the state’s historical context, it is not far-fetched to anticipate its application in other newly admitted states. In light of democratic principles, the Court should have adopted a secularist approach and given due weight to the minority interpretation in reaching its decision.

    • Important Cases Referred
      • Keshvanand Bharti vs State of Kerela AIR 1973 SC 1461, 1973 4 SCC 225
      • Mangal Singh v. Union of India, [1967] 2 S.C.R.
      • Reynolds v. Sims, 377 U.S.
    • Important Statutes Referred
      • The Constitution of India
        •    – Article 2
        •    – Article 4
        •    – Article 333
        •    – Article 371A
        •    – Article 371F
      • Representation of Sikkim Subjects Act, 1974
      • Government of Sikkim Act, 1974
      • The Representation of the People Act,1951

Leave a Reply