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“Quota within a quota”- Supreme Court to review its verdict on sub-classification of SCs/STs

By Ankita Mohanty

Supreme Court is set to re-examine its 2004 verdict of a constitution bench in the E. V. Chinnaiah case that conveyed that SCs and STs can’t be sub-classified for the sole purpose of reservation.

The Supreme Court on Thursday disagreed with its 2004 Constitution Bench verdict, which had ruled against giving preferential treatment to certain sub-castes within the Scheduled Castes. The preferential treatment that entailed grant of quotas in jobs and admissions in educational institutions would be reconsidered and therefore presented before the Chief Justice of India for further discretion.

“The verdict wasn’t correctly decided and the state can make laws to give preferential treatment by sub classifying caste within SCs and STs,” says the Bench, also comprising of Justices Indira Banerjee, Vineet Saran, M R Shah, and Aniruddha Bose, in light of its 2004 verdict. The bench referred the case filed by the Punjab government against the high court order before CJI Justice S A Bobde for setting up of a larger bench to revisit the earlier verdict. The Punjab and Haryana high court had struck down a state law empowering the government to sub-classify SC/STs for grant of quotas. The high court had relied on the 2004 verdict of the apex court and held that the Punjab government was not empowered to undertake the exercise of sub classifying SC/STs.

The Bench says, “Such classification wouldn't amount to tinkering with the Presidential Order under Article 341”. Justice Mishra while reading out the operative part of the judgment exclaims, “Once the State has the power to give reservations, it can also make subclassification to extend the benefit to those sub-castes not receiving the benefit”, positively threatening the concept of ‘creamy layer’ within the Schedule Caste.

This verdict fuels up the already prevalent debate: Does the ‘creamy layer’ narrative ignores the reality workplace caste discrimination, the recent example being that of a minister in the Himachal Pradesh government, with admittedly considerable social standing, who was disallowed from entering a temple within the state in January 2020.

What do you think about it? Share your thoughts in the comment section.

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