Supreme Court 7-judge bench to decide on sub-classification in SC/ST reservation list

A five-judge Constitution bench on Thursday said that preferential treatment by State Governments to certain sub-castes within the Scheduled Castes did not tantamount to excluding other classes in terms of the total deprivation caused to any of the castes in the list of Scheduled Caste under Article 341(2) of the Constitution of India.

“The sub-classification is to achieve the very purpose, as envisaged in the original classification itself and based thereupon evolved the very concept of reservation. Whether the sub-classification would be a further extension of the principle of said dynamics is the question to be considered authoritatively by the Court,” said a five-judge bench led by Justice Arun Mishra

Justice Mishra led bench disagreed with the top court’s 2005 decision in E.V. Chinnaiah v. State of A.P. and Ors holding that Scheduled Castes formed a homogenous class and that there could not be any sub­division.

Since a five-judge bench, which also comprised Justices Indira Banerjee, Vineet Saran, M R Shah and Aniruddha Bose, could not have overruled/revisited the decision in E V Chinniah being as it was a decision of a coordinate bench of five judges, the matter has now been referred to a bench of seven judges.

While referring a matter to a larger bench, the judges also made certain observations on the State’s power to provide preferential treatment to sub-castes within SCs.

The court said reservation had not been contemplated for all time by framers of the Constitution.

“On the one hand, there is no exclusion of those who have come up, on the other hand, if sub-classification is denied, it would defeat right to equality by treating unequal as equal”, the court said.

It added that providing a percentage of the reservation within a permissible limit was within the powers of the State legislatures. The State could not be deprived of its concomitant power to make a reasonable classification within particular classes of Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, and socially and educationally backward classes without depriving others in the list.

“The State law of preferential treatment to a limited extent, does not amend the list. It adopts the list as it is. The State law intends to provide reservation for all Scheduled Castes in a pragmatic manner based on statistical data. It distributes the benefits of reservations based on the needs of each Scheduled Caste”, the court said.

It added the State Government could decide the manner and quantum of reservation. As such, the State can also make sub­classifications when providing reservation to all Scheduled Castes in the list based on the rationale that it would conform with the very spirit of Articles 14, 15, and 16 of the Constitution providing reservation.

The State Government cannot, the court said, tamper with the list; it can neither include nor exclude any caste in the list or make enquiry whether any synonym exists.

The bench was ruling on a batch of petitions, in which the main issue was whether states can sub-classify groups among the SCs and provide reservation.

Read the Judgment

The Leaflet