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

Topics Covered: Welfare schemes for vulnerable sections of the population by the Centre and States and the performance of these schemes; mechanisms, laws, institutions and bodies constituted for the protection and betterment of these vulnerable sections.

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


Context:

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”.

Background:

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.

Need for sub-classification- Observations made by the Supreme Court:

  • Reservation has created inequalities within the reserved castes itself.
  • There is a “caste struggle” within the reserved class as benefit of reservation are being usurped by a few.
  • 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.

What does the Constitution of India state?

According to the Constitution of India, under article 341(1), the President of India, after consultation with the Governor, may specify, “the castes, races, tribes or parts of groups within castes or races, which shall be deemed to be Scheduled Castes”.

Accordingly, the President has notified the Scheduled Castes in the order called ‘Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order-1950’ and the ‘Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes List (Modification) Order-1956.

  • However, under article 341(2), the Parliament of India by law can include or exclude the above-mentioned groups from the list of the Scheduled Castes.

Does the latest judgment amount to tinkering of the Central list?

No, said the Supreme Court bench. Sub-classifications within the Presidential/Central List does 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.

  • Besides, Preferential treatment to ensure even distribution of reservation benefits to the more backward is a facet of the right to equality.

Why this judgment is significant?

It fully endorses the push to extend the creamy layer concept to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.

The judgment records that “Citizens cannot be treated to be socially and educationally backward till perpetuity; those who have come up must be excluded like the creamy layer”.

  • The entire basket of fruits cannot be given to the mighty at the cost of others under the guise of forming a homogenous class.

Implications of the 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.

  • In this case, the court 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.
  • Now with two numerically equal Benches of judges holding contrary viewpoints, the issue has been referred to a seven-judge Bench of the court.

InstaLinks:

Prelims Link:

  1. V. Chinnaiah case is related to?
  2. Powers of President under article 341(1).
  3. Who can include or exclude groups from the central list?
  4. Various benches of the Supreme Court.
  5. Power of Supreme Court to review its own judgment.

Mains Link:

There is a “caste struggle” within the reserved class as benefit of reservation are being usurped by a few. Discuss.

Sources: the Hindu.