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Focus: GS-II Governance, Social Justice

Why in news?

A Supreme Court 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”.

Supreme Court’s views: ‘Struggle within castes’

  • There is a “caste struggle” within the reserved class as benefit of reservation are being usurped by a few, the court pointed out.
  • The State cannot be deprived of the power to take care of the qualitative and quantitative difference between different classes to take ameliorative measures.
  • This judgment is significant as it fully endorses the push to extend the creamy layer concept to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.
  • The judgment records that “once a mortgage always a mortgage” cannot be pressed into service for submitting that once a backward class of citizens, always such a backward class.
  • “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 judgment said.

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 Chinnaiah 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.

On ‘Tinkering with the list’

  • The Central List of Scheduled Castes and Tribes is notified by the President under Articles 341 and 342 of the Constitution.
  • The consent of the Parliament is required to exclude or include castes in the List. In short, States cannot unilaterally add or pull out castes from the List.
  • The Current judgment reasoned that 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.
  • Preferential treatment to ensure even distribution of reservation benefits to the more backward is a facet of the right to equality.

Recently in news: Commission for sub-categorization of OBCs

The Union Cabinet has approved the extension of the term of the Commission to examine the issue of Sub-categorization of Other Backward Classes.

Commission for sub-categorization of OBCs

  • G. Rohini Commission is constituted to examine the issue of Sub-categorization of Other Backward Classes (OBCs) in Central List.
  • The commission has been established under Article 340 of Constitution.
  • This is the first government-mandated exercise to quantify the skewed flow of benefits among different OBC communities and suggest steps to correct the imbalance.
  • The Commission had clarified its stand on fixing OBC quotas based on current representation in reserved seats, and not on social hierarchy.

Functions of the Commission:

  • The commission will examine extent of inequitable distribution of benefits of reservation among castes included in broad category of OBCs.
  • It will also take up exercise of identifying respective castes/sub-castes/communities synonyms in Central List of OBCs and classify them into their respective sub-categories.
  • It will work out mechanism, norms, criteria and parameters, in scientific approach, for sub-categorization within such OBCs.

History of Sub-categorization

  • The First Backward Class Commission report of 1955, also known as the Kalekar report, had proposed sub-categorisation of OBCs into backward and extremely backward communities.
  • In 2015, former National Commission for OBCs asked for sub-categorisation within OBCs into Extremely Backward Classes (Group A), More Backward Classes (Group B) and Backward Classes (Group C).
  • Presently, ten states, including Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Haryana, Jharkhand, Bihar, West Bengal, Maharashtra, and Jammu, have sub-categorised OBCs.
  • The criteria used by the states were various, including the ascribed status such as denotified, nomadic or semi-nomadic tribes, the religion of a community, caste status before conversion to Christianity or Islam, and perceived status socially or traditional occupation.

Importance and Need of Sub-categorisation

  • Sub-categorisation of OBCs aims to ensure more equitable distribution of reservations in government jobs and educational institutions.
  • Sub-categorisation is important to ensure that dominant groups among OBCs do not corner all benefits.
  • Five-year data on OBC quota implementation in central jobs and higher educational institutions showed that a very small section has cornered the lion’s share.
  • In the past under article 340, Mandal commission was appointed had recommended 27% reservation for socially and educationally backward classes.
  • At present, there is no sub-categorisation and 27% reservation is a rigid and uniform entity.
  • This Commission will address the inefficiency in preventing large sections of the creamy layer from taking advantage of the quota system to the detriment of the poorer sections among their own caste groups in the past.

Article 340

The President may by order appoint a Commission to investigate the conditions of socially and educationally backward classes within the territory of India, and the difficulties under which they labour. The commission is mandated to make recommendations as to the steps that should be taken by the union or any state to remove such difficulties and as to improve their condition.

-Source: The Hindu

December 2023