[13 March 2024] The Hindu Op-ed: Intra-group caste variances, equality and the Court’s gaze

PYQ Relevance:

1. Whether the National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC) can enforce the implementation of constitutional reservation for the Scheduled Castes in the religious minority institutions? Examine (2018)

2. What are the two major legal initiatives by state since Independence, addressing discrimination against Scheduled Tribes (ST)? (2017)

3. Why are the tribals in India referred to as ‘the Scheduled Tribes’? Indicate the major provisions enshrined in the Constitution of India for their upliftment. (2016)

Under the Indian Constitution, the Concentration of Wealth violates​ (2021)
a) the Right to Equality​
b) the Directive Principles of State Policy​
c) the Right to Freedom​
d) the Concept of Welfare
From The Hindu


Mains: Minority sections of the society and their Empowerment; Judiciary; State government;

Prelims: Fundamental rights; Important judgements by SC; State government;

Mentor comments: Recently, the case of ‘State of Punjab vs Davinder Singh’ revolves around the question of whether State governments can make sub-classifications within Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes for public employment. The Supreme Court is set to deliver a judgment on this matter, addressing the issue of intra-group variances and the power of States to recognize them. We need to analyze this issue as it is sub-classified SC reservations which are leading to legal challenges and subsequent legislative actions.

Let’s learn. 

Why in the News?

The SC is set to deliver a judgment on whether State governments can make sub-classifications within SCs and STs, addressing the varying levels of development and discrimination within these groups. 


  • The ongoing case of State of Punjab v Davinder Singh has brought to light the complexities surrounding sub-classification within reserved categories.
  • The central question revolves around whether a group within a reserved category can be further sub-classified and granted reservations.
  • Proponents argue that sub-classification is necessary to ensure adequate representation of the most disadvantaged groups, addressing the issue of backwardness within backwardness.
  • On the other hand, opponents contend that the existing reservation scheme already ensures adequate representation for historically disadvantaged groups, making sub-classification unnecessary.

1) State of Punjab vs Davinder Singh case (1975):

– In 1975, the Government of Punjab issued a circular that reserved 50% of SC seats for Balmikis and Mazhabi Sikhs, leading to legal challenges culminating in the Supreme Court’s involvement.

– The case questions whether sub-classifications are constitutionally permissible within SCs and STs, challenging the notion that these groups are homogenous.

– The debate involves revisiting past judgments like E.V. Chinnaiah vs State of Andhra Pradesh, which prohibited sub-classifications within SCs but recognized such distinctions within Other Backward Classes (OBCs).

2) Indra Sawhney vs Union of India Case (1992):

– The SC cited its judgment which arose out of the Mandal Commission’s report. There, a nine-judge Bench had held that sub-classifications within socially and educationally backward classes (OBCs) for services under the government was permissible.

– The case introduced the concept of the “creamy layer,” excluding affluent sections within backward classes (limited it to not exceed 50%) from reservation benefits.

– The genesis of this debate dates back to 1980 when the Second Backward Classes Committee, chaired by BP Mandal, recommended 27% reservation for OBCs and 22.5% for Scheduled Castes.

3) About E.V. Chinnaiah vs State of Andhra Pradesh Case (2004):

– A five-judge Bench quashed the Andhra Pradesh Scheduled Castes (Rationalization of Reservations) Act, 2000. The Act was challenged before the High Court and later the Supreme Court, which declared it ‘ultra vires the Constitution’ as it offended Article 341 of the Constitution.

– This provision allows the President of India to notify a list of SCs for each State, and stipulates that the list can only be modified by Parliament.

– The case prohibited sub-classifications within SCs as it was found to violate constitutional provisions but recognized such distinctions within Other Backward Classes (OBCs). It emphasized that SCs and STs are homogeneous groups incapable of further regrouping or classification.

– The Court found that the State government had no power to tinker with the list because it was clear on a bare reading of Article 341 that such authority vested only with Parliament.

What is the difference between a homogenous class and a sub-classification within reserved categories?

  • A homogenous class refers to a group that is considered uniform or undifferentiated, where all individuals within the group are treated equally.
  • The Sub-classification within reserved categories involves categorizing a larger group into smaller sub-groups based on specific criteria, allowing for differential treatment or preferences within the overall category.
  • The distinction lies in how individuals within a larger reserved category are treated – either uniformly as a single homogenous group or with differentiated preferences based on sub-classifications.

What are the arguments for and against sub-classification within reserved categories?

Arguments for Sub-classification:

  • Ensuring Adequate Representation: Proponents argue that sub-classification is necessary to ensure adequate representation of the most disadvantaged groups within reserved categories.
  • Tailoring Criteria for Sub-classification: The court needs to tailor criteria for sub-classification to prevent leaving out certain groups while granting benefits to the most backward.
  • State’s Ability to Identify Backwardness: The states needs to be best positioned to judge the backwardness of communities and should have the authority to create sub-classifications within reserved categories without violating constitutional provisions.

Arguments against Sub-classification:

  • Presumption of Backwardness: Opponents argue that while there is a presumption of backwardness with Scheduled Castes (SCs), individual castes within SCs cannot be considered separate classes under Article 16(4), suggesting that making laws for specific castes within SC lists could violate Article 16(2).
  • Violation of Equality Principle: Critics assert that sub-classification would violate the right to equality by treating communities within the category differently, potentially leading to discrimination based on caste, which is prohibited under Article 16(2).
  • Stigma and Exclusion: Those against sub-classification argue that if certain Scheduled Castes do not receive reservation benefits, they may be left with the stigma of being a Scheduled Caste without access to affirmative action measures, highlighting concerns about exclusion and inequality.

What are the challenges faced by Sub-Classifications within Reserved Categories in India?

  • Lack of Equal Opportunities: Articles 14 to 16 of the Constitution promises of substantive equality. The absence of sub-classification perpetuates inequality within reserved categories, hinders the framing of appropriate government policies.
  • Legal and Constitutional Complexities: The states face challenges as they lack legislative competence to create sub-classifications within reserved categories, raising questions about the constitutionality of such measures.
  • Addressing Backwardness: The issue of “backwardness within backwardness” has been acknowledged, emphasizing the need to address the most disadvantaged communities effectively.

Way Forward

Considering the above challenges, they highlight the complexities and nuances involved in addressing sub-classifications within reserved categories in India. Hence it is necessary to emphasize on careful consideration and legal clarity in policy-making and implementation. The SC’s decision in cases like ‘State of Punjab vs Davinder Singh’ will play a crucial role in shaping affirmative action discourse and addressing issues of social justice within reserved categories

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