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Sub-Categorization of Scheduled Castes (SCs)

Why is it in the news?

  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a plan to investigate sub-categorization of SCs in Telangana to identify and assist the most backward among them, particularly the Madiga
  • Madigas are the most populous SC community in the state and have claimed that their representation is being overshadowed by another SC community, the Malas.

 Legal Aspects of Sub-Categorization

  • Several states like Punjab, Bihar, and Tamil Nadu have attempted to introduce state-level reservation laws to sub-categorize SCs and determine separate reservation quotas, but these efforts have been tied up in courts.
  • The Supreme Court is forming a larger Constitution Bench to decide on the legality of sub-categorization.
  • In 2004, the Supreme Court held that states did not have the unilateral authority to sub-categorize SCs and STs; only Parliament and the President could make these lists.
  • However, a 2020 judgment suggested that states could decide on the quantum of benefits within the existing lists, leading to confusion and a referral to a larger bench.

Government Steps

  • Despite the legal uncertainties, the Union government explored the possibility of sub-categorization after the 2004 judgment.
  • The Attorney-General of India in 2005 opined that sub-categorization was possible but required “unimpeachable evidence” and a constitutional amendment.
  • The Union government formed a National Commission and recommended an amendment to Article 341 of the Constitution, but both the National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC) and the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST) disagreed, stating that Article 16(4) already allowed states to create special laws for under-represented backward classes.


Arguments for Sub-Categorization

  • Proponents argue that sub-categorization is necessary due to graded inequalities among SC communities, where some have better access to benefits than others.
  • They suggest that sub-categorization would provide separate reservations for the most backward communities within the SC category.

Arguments against Sub-Categorization

  • Both the SC and ST Commissions have noted that separate reservations within categories may not address the root cause of the problem.
  • The most backward SCs may still lack candidates to fill reserved posts, given the vast disparities.
  • The focus should be on ensuring that existing government benefits reach these marginalized sections before considering sub-categorization.

 Way Forward

  • Legal experts emphasize the need for concrete data to support sub-categorization, including population numbers and socio-economic data of each community and sub-community.
  • Parliament can consider sub-categorization if supported by reliable data, which would inform decisions on how castes should be categorized and the percentage of reservations to be allocated.

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