Sub-categorisation of SCs | Panel to look into even distribution of benefits

Move comes after PM’s promise to look into SC sub-categorisation during Telangana poll campaign in response to Madigas’ demand 

Updated - January 19, 2024 02:01 am IST

Published - January 18, 2024 08:47 pm IST - New Delhi

Prime Minister Narendra Modi greets Madiga Reservation Porata Samithi leader Manda Krishna Madiga during a public rally at Parade Grounds in Hyderabad on November 11, 2023. 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi greets Madiga Reservation Porata Samithi leader Manda Krishna Madiga during a public rally at Parade Grounds in Hyderabad on November 11, 2023.  | Photo Credit: The Hindu

The Union government has formed a five-member committee of Secretaries, chaired by the Cabinet Secretary, to evaluate and work out a method for the equitable distribution of benefits, schemes and initiatives to the most backward communities amongst the over 1,200 Scheduled Castes across the country, that have been crowded out by relatively forward and dominant ones. 

This comes in the backdrop of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s promise to look into the demand for sub-categorisation of SCs as raised by the Madiga community in the run-up to the Telangana Assembly election

Further, this move comes just as a seven-judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court is set to start hearing the question of whether sub-categorisation among SCs and Scheduled Tribes is at all permissible.   

While the Supreme Court hearing will be on the constitutionality of sub-categorisation among SCs for the purpose of breaking up the reservation in jobs and education set aside for them, the government panel will be looking into “other ways to take care of their grievances”, The Hindu has learnt. 

The committee has a strict mandate to not deviate into the questions of reservation, or what the break-up of SC quota should be for employment and education as this would be considered sub-judice. It will instead look at strategies like special initiatives, focusing existing schemes towards them, etc.

However, sources added that nothing prevented it from forming an opinion on the matter in the process, for the consideration of the government whenever appropriate. The committee was formed earlier this month and comprises the Secretaries of the Home Ministry, Law Ministry, Tribal Affairs Ministry, and Social Justice Ministry. While no deadline has been given for the committee to present its findings, it has been asked to do so at the earliest. 

The Madiga community has been struggling since 1994 for the sub-categorisation of SCs and it was this demand that first led to the formation of the Justice P. Ramachandra Raju Commission in 1996 and later a National Commission in 2007 - both of which had concluded that there could be ways to do this. 

The Madiga community constitutes at least 50% of the total Scheduled Castes in Telangana. According to the 2011 Census, SCs form a little over 15% of the State’s population. For years, the Madiga community has said that the benefits, including that of reservation, meant for the SC category had been cornered by the Mala community, with the Madigas being left out. 

In the last two decades, multiple States like Punjab, Bihar, and Tamil Nadu have tried to bring in reservation laws at the State level in a bid to sub-categorise SCs and decide on a separate quantum of reservation for these subcategories within the umbrella of Scheduled Castes. However, all plans are held up in courts, waiting for the decision of the Supreme Court’s seven-judge Bench, which is headed by Chief Justice D.Y. Chandrachud.

The Union government had in 2005 considered legal options for sub-categorisation of SCs. At the time, the erstwhile Attorney General of India had opined that this could be possible but only if there was “unimpeachable evidence to indicate a necessity”. 

At the time, both the National Commissions for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes had opposed the move to amend the Constitution for this purpose, arguing that just setting aside a quota within the quota would not be enough and that making sure existing schemes and benefits reach them on priority basis was more urgent. 

According to legal experts, nothing in the Constitution prohibits the Parliament from sub-categorising SCs or STs but what the government would need to justify this move would be a 100% count of all castes - a caste census of each community and sub-community and their respective socio-economic data. 

This can be the only empirical basis on which the government can justify sub-categorisation of benefits and how much extra share of benefits each community is in need of, Supreme Court advocate Mohan Gopal has argued.

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