Supreme Court: The Judgment in EV Chinnaiah Requires Reconsideration, Directs Matter to Be Referred to a Larger Bench

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A Constitutional Bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra opined that the sub-classification of reserved classes is essential. This is for the benefit of the deprived sections within each class. It stated this issue is of great public importance and hence requires to be considered by a larger bench of judges.

Brief Facts of the Case

Section 4(5) of the Punjab Scheduled Caste and Backward Classes (Reservation in Services) Act, 2006 (“Punjab Act”) provided fifty per cent of the vacancies of the quota reserved for Scheduled Castes. Direct recruitment was to be offered to Balmikis and Mazhabi Sikhs, by providing first preference from amongst the Scheduled Castes candidates.

Punjab and Haryana High Court struck down the provisions contained in Section 4(5) of the Punjab Act by the judgment dated 29.3.2010. It relied upon the decision in E.V. Chinnaiah v. State of A.P. and Ors., (2005) 1 SCC 394. 

The question in the present case is if E.V. Chinnaiah is required to be revisited in the light of Article 338 of the Constitution of India. If the above judgment follows the law in Indra Sawhney and Ors. v. Union of India & Ors, 1992 Suppl. (3) SCC 217 was to be ascertained.

Appellant’s Arguments

E.V. Chinnaiah mentions that affirmative action taken by the States by giving preference to certain Scheduled Castes under Article 16(4) interferes with the Presidential List under Article 341. Since there is no inclusion or exclusion of any caste in the List, giving of preference does not disturb or interfere with the List in any manner. Hence, the provisions of Section 4(5) of the Punjab Act are within the legislative competence of the State.

The above judgment also holds that there cannot be a classification within the Scheduled Castes. This is against the ratio in Indira Sawhney on sub-classification within a class.

The preferential treatment is a facet of equality under Article 14. Any enactment by the State giving preference to more backward amongst the backward fulfils the object of Article 16(4).

There are distinctions and inequalities within Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes. These are about their ability to access education and employment, afford healthcare, and enjoy the same social status.

They are undeniable classes within a class. It is open to the State to deal with backward classes based on the needs of each group.

Respondent’s Arguments

In Indra Sawhney, the sub-classification was limited to backward classes. The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes are backward for the provisions of Article 16(4). The test or need of social and educational backwardness cannot be applied to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.

The object of Article 341(1) is to provide extra protection to the members of the Scheduled Castes. This regards the economic and educational backwardness suffered by them. The Parliament alone has the power to deal with Scheduled Castes once the President notifies the Scheduled Castes list.

Court’s Observation

The constitutional validity of Section 4(5) of the Punjab Act depends upon whether any such classification can be made within the class of Scheduled Castes or Scheduled Tribes or are to be treated as a homogenous class. 

In E.V. Chinnaiah, it was held that Scheduled Castes form homogenous classes and there cannot be any subdivision within them. While in Indra Sawhney, the majority of the Judges held that amongst the backward, there may be some more backward. If the State chooses to make such a classification, it would be permissible in law.

The Bench stated that the decision in Jarnail Singh & Ors. v. Lakshmi Narain Gupta & Ors., (2018) 10 SCC 396 is clear that the creamy layer concept can be applied to SC and ST. Such an application would not amount to interference with Lists under Articles 341 and 342.

Article 342A’s provisions are in line with Article 341 and 342 dealing with Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.

It observed that the provisions of Article 16(4) and Article 342A state that it would not be permissible to adopt different criteria for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, and socially and educationally backward classes.

The bench opined that an authoritative pronouncement is required for the aforesaid provisions of the Constitution. 

The issue of whether sub-classification is permissible only to the socially and educationally backward classes covered under Article 342A read with Article 366(26C) is to be examined by a larger bench. If such sub-classification can be for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes covered under similar provisions, it has to be deliberated. The Bench called it a “question of immense public importance.” This is given, the insertion of Article 342A.

The Court then discussed if sub-classification amounts to exclusion under Article341(2).

All the castes included in the list of Scheduled Caste are given the benefit of reservation. But only a specific percentage is fixed for preferential treatment to a caste/class which was not able to enjoy the benefit of reservation. Such disability to enjoy is because of being more backward within the backward classes of Scheduled Castes. 

The Court stated that the preferential treatment does not amount to excluding other classes as total deprivation caused to any of the castes in the list of Scheduled Caste under Article 341(2).

The Court also observed the dichotomy that on the one hand, there is no exclusion of those who have come up and represented. But, if sub-classification is denied, it would defeat the right to equality by treating unequal as equal.

The sub-classification made under Section 4(5) of the Punjab Act is to ensure that the benefit of the reservation percolates down to the deprived section. It observed that it would be permissible to make such sub-classification on a rational basis to provide benefit and to bring equality. Such classification would not amount to exclusion from the list as no class (caste) is deprived of reservation in totality.

It observed that when the reservation creates inequalities within the reserved castes itself, it is required to be taken care of by the State by making sub-classification. By adopting a distributive justice method, the State does not concentrate in a few hands and equal justice is provided to all.

It opined that the State Government can judge the fair manner in which reservation has to be distributed. It can work out its method and give preferential treatment to a particular class more backwards out of Scheduled Castes without depriving others of benefit. 

Inclusion or exclusion of classes by the Presidential notification is vested in the Parliament. This cannot be done by the states.

Court’s Decision

The Court directed to revisit the E. V Chinnaiah case before a Bench comprising of 7 Judges or more.


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