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

Sub-Categorization among SCs: Legal Aspects and Implications


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Horizontal Subcategorization

Mains level: NA

Central Idea

  • In a recent election rally in Telangana, PM made a commitment to explore the sub-categorization of Scheduled Castes (SCs) to identify and uplift the most marginalized among them.
  • This move is seen as an attempt to garner support from the Madiga community, the largest among the SC communities in the state.

SC Sub-Categorization: Legality Check

  • State-Level Attempts: Over the past two decades, several states, including Punjab, Bihar, and Tamil Nadu, have attempted to introduce reservation laws to sub-categorize SCs within their territories. These efforts have been held up in courts, awaiting a Supreme Court Constitution Bench’s decision.
  • Andhra Pradesh’s Initiative: The issue surfaced when the Andhra Pradesh government formed a commission in 1996, led by Justice Ramachandra Raju, to recommend sub-categorization based on disparities among SC communities. However, the Supreme Court, in 2004, ruled that states did not possess the unilateral authority to sub-categorize communities within the SC and Scheduled Tribes (ST) lists, as these lists are the prerogative of Parliament and the President.
  • Contradictory Rulings: A 2020 judgment by a five-judge Bench, led by Justice Arun Mishra, contradicted the 2004 ruling by stating that determining benefits within the SC/ST lists would not amount to “tinkering” and could be done by states. This discrepancy prompted the referral of the 2020 judgment to a larger Bench.

Government Initiatives and Legal Opinions

  • Union Government’s Efforts: The 2004 judgment prompted the Union government to explore the possibility of sub-categorization. In 2005, the Attorney-General of India (AGI) opined that sub-categorization was feasible if supported by “unimpeachable evidence” and suggested a constitutional amendment for this purpose.
  • National Commission Recommendations: The National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC) and the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST) opined that a constitutional amendment was unnecessary. They cited Article 16(4) of the Constitution, which allows states to create special laws for under-represented backward classes.

Arguments for Sub-Categorization

  • Graded Inequalities: Proponents argue that sub-categorization addresses the graded inequalities within SC communities. It ensures that the more backward communities receive their fair share of benefits, preventing the dominance of relatively advanced communities.
  • Representation at All Levels: The goal is to ensure representation at all levels, including higher positions. However, the most backward SCs lag so far behind that even reserved positions at advanced levels may not benefit them due to a lack of suitable candidates.

Data Requirement for Sub-Categorization

  • Legal experts emphasize the importance of robust data, including population numbers, socio-economic indicators, and community-specific information.
  • This data would form the basis for reasonable categorization, quota allocation, and policy decisions.


  • The sub-categorization of Scheduled Castes (SCs) is a complex legal and social issue that remains unresolved, with contradictory Supreme Court rulings and varying opinions among government bodies.
  • While sub-categorization aims to address disparities within SC communities, it raises practical challenges, such as data collection and ensuring meaningful representation.
  • The quest for a fair and legally sound sub-categorization mechanism continues, with the need for comprehensive data and clear legal guidelines at the forefront of the debate.

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