Sub-categorisation within Castes

GS Paper II

News Excerpt:

In an election rally in Telangana, the Prime Minister promised to investigate the sub-categorisation of Scheduled Castes (SCs) to identify and help the most backward among them.

  • The Madigas are the most populous SC communities in the state but have claimed that another SC community, the Malas, was taking up their share of representation.


Sub-categorisation of Castes:

  • States argue that certain SCs are under-represented despite reservation compared to other castes.
  • Over the past two decades, several Indian states, including Andhra Pradesh, Punjab, Bihar, and Tamil Nadu, have attempted to introduce reservation laws at the state level to sub-categorize SCs and determine their respective quantum of reservation.
    • However, these plans have been stalled in courts as the Supreme Court forms its larger Constitution Bench to decide the matter.

Constitutional status regarding sub-categorisation:

  • The Indian Constitution allows special treatment for SCs and STs to achieve equality but does not specify the castes and tribes to be called Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs).
  • This power is left to the central executive, i.e., the President.
    • Articles 341 and 342: The President, after consultation with the Governor, may specify the castes, races, tribes or parts of groups within castes or races, which shall be deemed to be SCs and STs.
  • According to the Constitution, all SCs shall be treated as a homogeneous group.

Judicial Interventions:

  • In 2004, the Supreme Court ruled that the State did not have the power to unilaterally sub-categorize communities in the list of SCs or STs.
  • In the 2005 E.V. Chinnaiah case, the Supreme Court ruled that special protection of SCs is based on the premise that all SCs can collectively enjoy the benefits of reservation regardless of income inequality.
    • It also stated only the President has the power to notify the inclusion or exclusion of a caste as SC, and states cannot tinker with the list.
    • However, in 2020, the Supreme Court ruled that deciding on the quantum of benefits in the notified lists would not be considered "tinkering."
  • In the 2018 Jarnail Singh v Lachhmi Narain Gupta judgement, the Supreme Court upheld the "creamy layer" concept within SCs, justifying that it provides an income ceiling on those eligible for reservation.

Executive actions:

  • In 2004, the Supreme Court ruling on SC sub-categorization prompted the Union government to explore legal options.
  • In 2005, the Attorney-General of India (AGI) suggested that it was possible to sub-categorize SCs, provided "unimpeachable evidence to indicate a necessity" for it.
    • The AGI suggested a constitutional amendment to facilitate this.
  • The Union government formed a National Commission to investigate this issue in Andhra Pradesh, and the cabinet recommended an amendment to Article 341 of the Constitution.
    • However, the National Commission on SCs and STs argued that a constitutional amendment was unnecessary.

Way Forward:

  • Need for concrete data: The Parliament can handle the sub-categorization of castes. Still, concrete population numbers and socio-economic data, along with appropriate percentages, are crucial for determining how castes can be classified.
  • NCSC and NCST recommend that existing schemes and government benefits reach the SCs before sub-categorization. Both bodies believe addressing these disparities is crucial for ensuring representation at all levels.

Mains PYQ

Q. “Caste system is assuming new identities and associational forms. Hence, caste system cannot be eradicated in India.” (UPSC 2018)

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