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NEW DELHI: Holding that benefits of reservation are being enjoyed only by certain groups within Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and socially and educationally backward classes (OBCs) leading to inequalities within the reserved classes, the Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that the government can give preferential treatment by way of sub-categorisation of some sections of SCs, STs and OBCs in reservation.
A five-judge bench of Justices Arun Mishra, Indira Banerjee, Vineet Saran, M R Shah and Aniruddha Bose said sub-classifications of SCs, STs and OBCs could be allowed by the government, which means that some would get ‘reservation within reservation’ to end disparities within the reserved class. The court said there is a cry (for sub-categorisation) and caste struggle within the reserved class and sub-classification would bring equality and end disparity.
The SC’s verdict, however, is not a final word on the issue for the time being as the matter will be adjudicated by a seven-judge bench as Thursday’s judgment is in contradiction with the apex court’s 2004 verdict by which sub-classification was not allowed, also by a five-judge bench.
Upholding validity of the Punjab law for reserving 50% vacancies within Scheduled Castes to Balmikis and Mazhabi Sikhs, the court said the state cannot be deprived of the power to take care of the qualitative and quantitative difference between different classes to take ameliorative measures. It said if sub-classification is denied, it would defeat the principle of right to equality by treating unequal as equal and noted that the scavenger class continued to remain more or less where it was.
Differing with the 2004 verdict, the bench said the present reservation policy is causing more inequality as its benefits are being enjoyed by a few castes and it is not percolating down to the people living at the bottom. While a larger bench will deliver a final ruling, the SC decision is likely to set off a few political tremors as the sub-classification proposal has been fiercely resisted by more dominant SCs, STs and OBCs. Even the Centre’s bid to increase the income bar for OBCs to avail of reservation has run into heavy weather, with BJP MP Ganesh Singh, who heads the parliamentary panel on OBC welfare, mobilising opinion against the move.
“In our opinion, it would be permissible on rational basis to make such sub-classification to provide benefit to all to bring equality, and it could not amount to exclusion from the list as no class (caste) is deprived of reservation in totality. In case benefit which is meant for the emancipation of all the castes included in the list of Scheduled Castes, is permitted to be usurped by few castes, those who are adequately represented have advanced and belonged to the creamy layer…then it would (be) tantamount to creating inequality whereas in case of hunger every person is required to be fed and provided bread. The entire basket of fruits cannot be given to mighty at the cost of others under the guise of forming a homogenous class,” Justice Mishra, who wrote the judgment, said.
“The social realities cannot be ignored and overlooked while the Constitution aims at the comprehensive removal of disparities. The very purpose of providing reservation is to take care of disparities. The Constitution takes care of inequalities. There are unequals within the list of Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, and socially and educationally backward classes. Various reports indicate that SCs and STs do not constitute a homogenous group. The aspiration of equal treatment of the lowest strata, to whom the fruits of the reservation have not effectively reached, remains a dream. At the same time, various castes, by and large, remain where they were, and they remain unequals, are they destined to carry their backwardness till eternity?” it said. Holding that the constitutional goal of social transformation cannot be achieved without taking into account changing social realities, the bench said it cannot be a silent spectator and shut eyes to stark realities.
“The State’s obligation is to undertake the emancipation of the deprived section of the community and eradicate inequalities. When the reservation creates inequalities within the reserved castes itself, it is required to be taken care of by the State making sub-classification and adopting a distributive justice method so that State largesse does not concentrate in (a) few hands and equal justice to all is provided,” the bench said.
“Providing a percentage of the reservation within permissible limit is within the powers of the State legislatures. It cannot be deprived of its concomitant power to make reasonable classification within the particular classes of Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, and socially and educationally backward classes without depriving others in the list. To achieve the real purpose of reservation, within constitutional dynamics, needy can always be given benefit; otherwise, it would mean that inequality being perpetuated within the class if preferential classification is not made ensuring benefit to all,” it said.

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