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

States can have sub-groups among SCs/STs: Supreme Court


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Presidential List

Mains level: Quota within Quota debate

A five-judge Bench of the Supreme Court has held that States can sub-classify Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in the Central List to provide preferential treatment to the “weakest out of the weak”.

Try this question for mains;

Q.Reservation is no more seen by the Supreme Court as an exception to the equality rule; rather, it is a facet of equality. Discuss this in light of the quest for sub-categorisation of Scheduled Castes/Tribes.

What is the sub-categorisation of SCs?

  • States have argued that among the SCs, there are some that remain grossly under-represented despite reservation in comparison to other SCs.
  • This inequality within the SCs is underlined in several reports, and special quotas have been framed to address it.
  • For example, in AP, Punjab, Tamil Nadu and Bihar, special quotas were introduced for the most vulnerable Dalits.
  • In 2007, Bihar set up the Mahadalit Commission to identify the castes within SCs that were left behind.

About the Judgement

  • The judgment is based on a reference to the Constitution Bench the question of law involving Section 4(5) of the Punjab Scheduled Caste and Backward Classes (Reservation in Services) Act, 2006.
  • The legal provision allows 50% of the reserved Scheduled Castes seats in the State to be allotted to Balmikis and Mazhabi Sikhs.

There lies struggle within castes: SC

  • There is a “caste struggle” within the reserved class as a benefit of reservation is being usurped by a few, the court pointed out.
  • The million-dollar question is how to trickle down the benefit to the bottom rung.
  • It is clear that caste, occupation, and poverty are interwoven.
  • The State cannot be deprived of the power to take care of the qualitative and quantitative difference between different classes… to take ameliorative measures, said the judgment.

Overruling the old judgment

  • With this, the Bench took a contrary view to a 2004 judgment delivered by another Coordinate Bench of five judges in the E.V. Chinnaiah case.
  • The judgment had held that allowing States to unilaterally “make a class within a class of members of the Scheduled Castes” would amount to tinkering with the Presidential list.
  • The judgment is significant as it fully endorses the push to extend the creamy layer concept to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.
  • Citizens cannot be treated to be socially and educationally backwards till perpetuity; those who have come up must be excluded like the creamy layer, the judgment said.

What is the Presidential list?

  • The Constitution, while providing for special treatment of SCs and STs to achieve equality, does not specify the castes and tribes that are to be called SCs and STs.
  • This power is left to the central executive — the President. As per Article 341, those castes notified by the President are called SCs and STs.
  • A caste notified as SC in one state may not be an SC in another state. These vary from state to state to prevent disputes as to whether a particular caste is accorded reservation or not.
  • According to the annual report of the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, there were 1,263 SCs in the country in 2018-19.
  • No community has been specified as SC in Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland, and Andaman & Nicobar Islands and Lakshadweep.
  • The Constitution treats all Schedule Castes as a single homogeneous group.

Arguments against sub-categorisation

  • The argument is that the test or requirement of social and educational backwardness cannot be applied to SCs and STs.
  • The special treatment is given to the SCs due to untouchability with which they suffer.
  • In a 1976 case, State of Kerala v N M Thomas, the Supreme Court laid down that “Scheduled Castes are not castes, they are class.”
  • The petitioner’s argument against allowing states to change the proportion of reservation is also based on the perception that such decisions will be made to appease one vote-bank or the other.
  • A watertight President’s list was envisaged to protect from such potential arbitrary change.

Way ahead with the Judgement

  • The judgement reasoned that sub-classifications within the Presidential/Central List do not amount to “tinkering” with it.
  • No caste is excluded from the list. The States only give preference to weakest of the lot in a pragmatic manner based on statistical data.
  • Preferential treatment to ensure even distribution of reservation benefits to the more backward is a facet of the right to equality, judgement observed.

Also read:

[Burning Issue] SC judgement on Reservation not being a Fundamental Right

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