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Sub-Categorization within the SCs

By Amigos IAS

Why is it in the news?

  • The Union government has established of a committee to address the equitable distribution of benefits among Scheduled Castes (SCs) across the country.
  • This was triggered by the Madiga community’s demand in Telangana for sub-categorization within the SCs to ensure fairer distribution of resources.
  • The objective is to identify and provide assistance to the most backward among SCs.
  • States like Punjab, Bihar, and Tamil Nadu have attempted to enact reservation laws at the state level to sub-categorize SCs, acknowledging varying degrees of backwardness within the community.
Legality of Sub-categorization

·       E. V. Chinnaiah v State of Andhra Pradesh (2004) Case: Supreme Court’s 5-Judge Bench ruled against sub-categorization.

·       Judicial Standoff: Ongoing legal proceedings as a Constitution Bench has not yet provided a conclusive decision on the matter.

Arguments Favouring Sub-categorization

  • Graded Inequalities: Recognition of disparities among SC communities, justifying tailored interventions.
  • Unequal Representation: Some communities claim less access to benefits; for example, the Madiga community argues that the Mala community has disproportionately benefited from SC reservations.
  • Legal Standpoint: A five-judge Bench led by Justice Arun Mishra affirms the competence of states to provide preferential treatment to the weakest among SCs without depriving others of benefits.
Committees for Sub-categorization

·       Committee of Secretaries: Comprising members from Home Ministry, Law Ministry, Tribal Affairs Ministry, and Social Justice Ministry, chaired by the Cabinet Secretary.

·       Mandate: Evaluate strategies for equitable distribution, focusing on special initiatives without delving into policy matters like reservation quotas.

Arguments Against Sub-categorization

  • Legal Challenges: According to Supreme Court, the state lacks the power to unilaterally sub-categorize communities in the SC list. The Constitution has provided that these lists can only be made by Parliament and notified by the President.
  • Socio-economic Data: Lack of updated data on the socio-economic status of SCs, hinders the establishment of a scientific basis for sub-categorization.

Some related Statistics and provisions

  • According to the 2011 Census, Scheduled Castes (SCs) constitute 16.6% of India’s total population, a slight increase from 16.2% in the 2001 Census.
  • Article 341: Defines Scheduled Castes with respect to any State or Union Territory.

Constitutional Provisions:

  • Article 14: Guarantees equality before the law.
  • Article 15(4): Empowers the state to make special provisions for the advancement of socially and educationally backward classes of citizens, including Scheduled Castes.
  • Article 16(4), 16(4A), and 16(4B): Provide for reservation in posts and services.
  • Article 17: Abolishes untouchability and forbids its practice in any form.
  • Article 23: Emphasizes the importance of protecting individual freedom and dignity.
  • Article 24: Prohibits the employment of children below the age of 14 years in any factory, mine, or hazardous occupation.
  • Article 46: Focuses on the promotion of educational and economic interests of Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, and other weaker sections.
  • Article 330: Provides reservation of seats for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in the House of the People (Lok Sabha).
  • Article 335: Permits laws that reduce requirements or relax qualifications for members of SC/ST communities in appointments to public services and posts.

Other Statutory Provisions:

  • RFCTLARR Act, 2013 (Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act): Sections 41 and 42 of the Act contain special provisions protecting the interests of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.
  • Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989: Designed to provide protection to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes and enforce their rights, particularly in preventing atrocities against them.

Conclusion

  • While there is no constitutional prohibition against sub-categorization, the government must justify the move through a comprehensive caste census with emphasis on collecting socio-economic data for all communities to ensure a justifiable and objective basis for sub-categorization.
  • The primary focus should be on the equitable distribution of benefits, schemes, and initiatives to the SC population, aligning with constitutional and statutory provisions.

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