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Sub-Classification Among Reserved Categories


A seven Bench Constitutional Bench is set to hear a number of petitions regarding validity of sub-classification among reserved categories.


GS II: Polity and Governance

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Sub-classification within SCs and STs
  2. Legal Aspects of Sub-Categorization of Scheduled Castes: A Judicial Journey
  3. Arguments for and Against Sub-Categorization of SCs

Sub-classification within SCs and STs:

  • The Seven-judge Bench of the Supreme Court will decide on the validity of sub-classification within the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe categories.
  • In 2020, a five Judge Bench held that states could sub-classify Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in the Central List to provide preferential treatment to the “Weakest out of the weak”.
  • However, this view was contrary to the judgement pronounced in 2004 that 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.
  • Following these contradictions, the question was referred to a seven-Judge Constitutional bench.

Legal Aspects of Sub-Categorization of Scheduled Castes: A Judicial Journey

Attempts by States:

  • Over the past two decades, States like Punjab, Bihar, and Tamil Nadu have sought to implement reservation laws at the State level for sub-categorization of Scheduled Castes (SCs).
  • The aim is to determine a separate quantum of reservation for these subcategories within the broader category of SCs.

Judicial Intervention:

  • Legal challenges arose when the Andhra Pradesh government, in 1996, recommended sub-categorization based on backwardness and representation disparities among SC communities.
  • The Supreme Court, in 2004, ruled that States lacked the unilateral power to sub-categorize SCs or Scheduled Tribes (STs).

Contradictory Judgments:

  • In 2020, a five-judge Bench, led by Justice Arun Mishra, suggested that determining benefits within the already-notified lists of SCs/STs would not constitute interference and States could proceed.
  • This apparent contradiction led to the 2020 judgment being referred to a larger Bench.

Union Government’s Involvement:

  • Despite the pending Supreme Court decision, the Union government explored legal avenues in 2005.
  • The Attorney-General of India (AGI) opined that sub-categorization was possible with “unimpeachable evidence,” suggesting a constitutional amendment.

National Commission and Constitutional Amendment Proposal:

  • The Union government formed a National Commission to investigate sub-categorization in Andhra Pradesh.
  • The Cabinet recommended amending Article 341 of the Constitution, but the National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC) and the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST) argued against the need for a constitutional amendment.
  • They pointed to Article 16(4), stating it already empowered States to create special laws for under-represented backward classes.

Arguments for and Against Sub-Categorization of SCs:

Arguments in Favor:

  • Graded Inequalities: The primary argument for sub-categorization stems from the perceived graded inequalities among Scheduled Caste (SC) communities.
  • Access Disparities: The contention is that even within marginalized communities, some have lesser access to basic facilities, leading to more forward communities consistently availing benefits while overshadowing the more backward ones.
  • Need for Separate Reservation: Advocates argue that sub-categorizing communities and providing separate reservations for the more backward groups within the SC category is the solution.

Arguments Against:

  • Root Cause Addressal: Both the SC and ST Commissions counter that separate reservations within categories do not address the root cause of the problem.
  • Representation at All Levels: The commissions emphasize the need for representation at all levels and contend that the most backward SCs are significantly behind more forward SC communities.
  • Insufficient Candidates: Even with reserved posts at higher levels, the most backward SCs may lack enough candidates to be considered, perpetuating the existing disparity.
  • Prioritizing Existing Schemes: Both commissions recommend that existing schemes and government benefits should reach these sections before considering sub-categorization to ensure comprehensive upliftment.

-Source: The Hindu


February 2024