Minority Issues – SC, ST, Dalits, OBC, Reservations, etc.

[op-ed snap] Another quota question: On creamy layer for SCs


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Reservation - creamy layer for SC/ ST


There is a need for an authoritative pronouncement on the question of whether the concept of ‘creamy layer’ ought to be applied to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. 

Supreme Court – M Nagaraj

    • The Union government has called upon the Supreme Court to form a seven-judge Bench to reconsider the formulation.
    • In the judgment, the court said that the “creamy layer” should be applied to the SC and ST communities. 
    • The judgment upheld Constitutional amendments meant to preserve reservation in promotions as well as consequential seniority.
    • It contained an exposition of the equality principle. Through that, it hedged reservations against a set of constitutional requirements. Without it, the structure of equal opportunity would collapse. 
    • These were ‘quantifiable data’ to show the backwardness of a community, the inadequacy of its representation in service, and the lack of adverse impact on “the overall efficiency of administration”

Impact of judgment

    • This questioned the continuance of quota policies of various State governments due to non-compliance with these parameters. 
    • In Jarnail Singh (2018), another Constitution Bench reaffirmed the applicability of creamy layer norms to SC/STs. 
    • It ruled that Nagaraj was wrong to require a demonstration of backwardness for the Scheduled Castes and Tribes, as it was directly contrary to the nine-judge Bench judgment in Indra Sawhney (1992).
    • Indira Sawhney laid down that there is no need for a test of backwardness for SC/STs, as “they indubitably fall within the expression ‘backward class of citizens’.”
    • Jarnail Singh accepted the presumption of the backwardness of Scheduled Castes and Tribes. 
    • But it favored applying the ‘means test’ to exclude from the purview of SC/ST reservation those who had achieved some level of economic advancement. 
    • It specifically rejects an opinion by the then Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan in Ashoka Thakur (2008) that the ‘creamy layer’ concept is a principle of identification and not one of equality.

The current debate

    • The Centre has accepted that the ‘creamy layer’ norm is needed to ensure that only those genuinely backward get reservation benefits.
    • It is upset that this principle has been extended to Dalits, who are the most backward among the backward sections. 
    • The question is whether the exclusion of the advanced sections among SC/ST candidates can be disallowed only for promotions. 
    • Most of them may not fall under the ‘creamy layer’ category at the entry-level, but after some years of service and promotions, they may reach an income level at which they fall under the ‘creamy layer’. 
    • This may defeat the constitutional amendments that the court had upheld to protect reservation in promotions as well as consequential seniority. 


Another landmark verdict in the history of affirmative action jurisprudence may be needed to settle these questions.

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