New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Thursday said the fruits of reservation have not effectively reached the lowest strata of society and various castes largely remain unequal and where they were, which gives rise to the vital question of how to ensure the benefits trickle down to the bottom rung.
A five-judge bench, headed by Justice Arun Mishra and comprising Justices Indira Banerjee, Vineet Saran, M.R. Shah and Aniruddha Bose, asked if such castes are destined to carry their backwardness till eternity.
The query was posed by the top court, while disagreeing with its 2004 Constitution Bench judgement, which ruled against giving preferential treatment to certain sub-castes within Scheduled Castes, and holding that this verdict needs to be revisited.
"There is no constitutional bar to take further affirmative action as taken by the state government in the cases to achieve the goal. By allotting a specific percentage out of reserved seats and to provide preferential treatment to a particular class, cannot be said to be violative of the list under Articles 341, 342, and 342A as no enlisted caste is denied the benefit of reservation.
"When the reservation creates inequalities within the reserved castes itself, it is required to be taken care of by the state making sub-classifications and adopting a distributive justice method so that state largesse does not concentrate in few hands and equal justice to all is provided," it said.
Emphasising on sub-classification, the top court said that it "is to achieve the very purpose, as envisaged in the original classification itself and based thereupon evolved the very concept of reservation. Whether the sub-classification would be a further extension of the principle of said dynamics is the question to be considered authoritatively by the court."
The bench observed that reservation may be made for the sub-castes within Scheduled Castes, and such classification would not lead to interfering with the Presidential Order under Article 341. "The Scheduled Castes, as per the Presidential List, are not frozen for all the time, and neither they are a homogenous group as evident from the vast anthropological and statistical data collected by various Commissions," it held.
It held noted once the state has power to give reservation, then it could go ahead with sub-classification, to extend the benefits of reservation to those sub-castes, which have not availed these benefits.
The court said it is essential to reconsider the 2004 verdict in the E.V. Chinnaiah case as it seems it was not correctly decided and this matter should be placed before Chief Justice S.A. Bobde for appropriate direction.
The 2004 verdict in the E.V. Chinnaiah's case was also decided by a five-judge bench. As a result, the matter would now have to go to a larger bench. This will be placed before the Chief Justice to refer it to a bench of seven judges or more.
The current case came up before the apex court after the Punjab and Haryana High Court in 2010 struck down a state law, which empowered the government to sub-classify SC/STs for grant of quotas.
The state government appealed the verdict, which had struck down Section 4 (5) of the Punjab Scheduled Caste and Backward Classes (Reservation in Services) Act, 2006 and termed it unconstitutional. This Act gave first preference to Mazbhi Sikhs and Balmikis castes for SC quota in public services.