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General Studies 2 >> Governance

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1. Context

In a recent election rally in Telangana, Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised to examine the sub-categorization of Scheduled Castes (SCs) to identify and uplift the most backward among them. 

2. Sub-categorisation of castes

  • The sub-categorisation of castes refers to the process of dividing the broad category of Castes into smaller sub-groups, to provide more targeted benefits and representation to the most marginalized communities within the group.
  • Scheduled Castes (SCs), also known as Dalits, are officially designated as the most disadvantaged and socially ostracized community in India. They are a diverse group with varying customs, languages, and traditions, but they share a common history of discrimination and marginalization.
  • The sub-categorization of SCs and STs is due to various complexities. Unlike OBCs, SCs and STs do not have a creamy layer, and addressing backwardness among them involves dealing with untouchability issues.
  • Sub-categorization may exacerbate differences within these communities and lead to competition for affirmative action. There is already a demand for OBC status from groups like Marathas, Patels, and Jats, making the situation more challenging.
  • Some SC communities, like Madigas in Telangana, feel marginalized and seek a separate quota.
  • According to the 2011 census, SCs constitute about 16.6% of India's population. They are predominantly found in rural areas, where they face significant challenges in accessing education, employment, and healthcare. Despite progress in recent decades, SCs continue to be among the poorest and most vulnerable groups

3. Legal Implications

  • The question of whether SC sub-categorization is legally permissible has been debated for over two decades.
  • Several states, including Punjab, Bihar, and Tamil Nadu, have attempted to implement state-level reservation laws to sub-categorize SCs and allocate separate quotas within the existing SC reservation framework.
  • However, these plans have been stalled in court as the Supreme Court awaits the formation of a larger Constitution Bench to address the matter.
  • The issue first arose in 1996 when the Andhra Pradesh government established a one-man Commission headed by Justice Ramachandra Raju.
  • The Commission recommended sub-categorizing SCs in the state based on evidence of significant disparities in backwardness and representation among different SC communities.
  • The state government's attempt to implement this recommendation led to a legal challenge that ultimately reached the Supreme Court.
  • In 2004, the Supreme Court ruled that states lacked the unilateral authority to sub-categorize communities within the SC or Scheduled Tribes (ST) lists.
  • The Constitution mandates that these lists can only be amended by Parliament and notified by the President.
  • However, in a 2020 judgment, a five-judge Bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra held that determining the quantum of benefits within the existing SC/ST lists did not constitute "tinkering" with the lists and that states could undertake such measures.
  • This judgment contradicted the 2004 ruling, and the matter has been referred to the larger Bench for a definitive resolution.

4. Government Efforts

  • Despite the ongoing legal uncertainty, the 2004 judgment prompted the Union government to explore legal avenues for SC sub-categorization.
  • The government initiated discussions with the Law Ministry, and in 2005, the Attorney-General of India (AGI) opined that sub-categorization could be permissible under specific conditions.
  • The AGI emphasized the need for "unimpeachable evidence" to demonstrate the necessity of such a measure.
  • The AGI also suggested the possibility of a constitutional amendment to facilitate sub-categorization.
  • Based on the AGI's opinion, the Union government formed a National Commission to examine the feasibility of SC sub-categorization in Andhra Pradesh.
  • The then Cabinet recommended an amendment to Article 341 of the Constitution to enable sub-categorization.
  • However, both the National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC) and the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST) advised against a constitutional amendment.
  • They maintained that Article 16(4) of the Constitution already empowered states to enact special laws for any backward classes deemed to be under-represented.

5. Arguments For and Against Sub-Categorization

  • The primary argument in favour of SC sub-categorization centres on the existence of graded inequalities among SC communities.
  • Proponents argue that even within the marginalized SC category, there are groups with limited access to basic amenities.
  • As a result, the more advanced SC communities have consistently benefited from reservation policies, while the more backward ones have been marginalized.
  • Sub-categorization, they argue, would address this issue by providing separate reservation quotas for the more backward SC communities within the overall SC reservation framework.
  • However, both the NCSC and the NCST have expressed concerns about the effectiveness of sub-categorization in addressing the root causes of inequality.
  • They argue that allotting separate reservations within SC categories would not adequately address the underlying disparities.
  • The internal note prepared by the NCST explained that the most backward SCs are so far behind their more advanced counterparts that a separate quota would be insufficient.
  • The NCST emphasized the need for broad-based measures to ensure representation at all levels, arguing that even with separate quotas for higher-level positions, the most backward SCs would still lack the candidates to fill these positions.
  • Both commissions recommended focusing on ensuring that existing schemes and government benefits reach these marginalized groups before considering sub-categorization.

6. The Way Forward

Legal experts underscore the need for concrete data to support SC sub-categorization.  There is nothing that prohibits the Parliament from being competent to do this. But what is primarily needed is concrete population numbers of each community and sub-community and their respective socio-economic data, which are the only thing that can provide a reasonable ground to decide how castes can be categorised, how much percentage should be given, etc."

For Prelims: sub-categorization of Scheduled Castes, National Commission for Scheduled Castes, the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes, Article 16(4), Article 341, one-man Commission
For Mains: 
1. Discuss the challenges in navigating the roles of state governments and the central government in implementing sub-categorization. How can a balance be achieved to address regional concerns while ensuring national consistency? (250 Words) 
Previous Year Questions 

1. Under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, who shall be the authority to initiate the process for determining the nature and extent of individual or community forest rights or both? (UPSC 2013)

A. State Forest Department
B. District Collector/Deputy Commissioner
C. Tahsildar/Block Development Officer/Mandal Revenue Officer
D. Gram Sabha

Answer: D

2. Based on the Sixth Schedule of Indian Constitution, with respect to the tribal areas of Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram Which of the following can the Governor of a State do?  (DSSSB PRT General Section Officer 2019)
1. Can create a new autonomous district
2. The area of atonomous district can be increased
A. 1 Only     B. 2 Only        C. Both 1 and 2         D. Neither 1 nor 2
Answer: C
3. If a particular area is brought under the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution of India, which one of the following statements best reflects the consequence of it? (UPSC 2022)
A. This would prevent the transfer of land of tribal people to non-tribal people.
B. This would create a local self-governing body in that area.
C. This would convert that area into a Union Territory.
D. The State having such areas would be declared a Special Category State.
Answer: A
4. Article _____ of the Constitution of India deals with provisions related to the administration and control of Scheduled Areas and Scheduled Tribes. (SSC CGL 2020)
A. 222(1)         B. 244(1)          C. 244(2)            D.  222(2)
Answer: B
5. The National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC) was formed by insertion of Article ______ in the Constitution of India. (SSC CGL 2020) 
A. 328B         B.  338A            C. 338B            D. 328A
Answer: B
6. National Commission of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes have been replaced by National Commission of Scheduled Castes and National Commission of Scheduled Tribes by which of the following amendment? (KPSC AE 2017)
A. 37th Amendment       
B. 88th Amendment
C. 89th Amendment
D. 92nd Amendment
Answer: C
7. Every year, a month long ecologically important campaign/festival is held during which certain communities/tribes plant saplings of fruit-bearing trees. Which of the following are such communities/ tribes? (UPSC 2014)

(a) Bhutia and Lepcha
(b) Gond and Korku
(c) Irula and Toda
(d) Sahariya and Agariya

Answer: B

8. The provisions in Fifth Schedule and Sixth Schedule in the Constitution of India are made in order to (UPSC 2015)

(a) protect the interests of Scheduled Tribes
(b) determine the boundaries between States
(c) determine the powers, authority and responsibilities of Panchayats
(d) protect the interests of all the border States

Answer: A

9. Under which Schedule of the Constitution of India can the transfer of tribal land to private parties for mining be declared null and void? (UPSC 2019)

(a) Third Schedule
(b) Fifth Schedule
(c) Ninth Schedule
(d) Twelfth Schedule

Answer: B

10. The provisions of reservation for O.B.C. is made in the Constitution under which Articles? (UKPSC 2016) 
A. Article 13 (II) & 14    B. Article 14 & 15    C. Article 15 (IV) & 16 (IV) D.  Article 17 & 18 Answer: C
11. The constitutional authority, vested with the power of declaring castes and tribes as the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, is the (UPPSC 2016) 
A. President of India                            B. Prime Minister of India   
C. Minister of Social Welfare              C. Chairman, SC / ST Commission
Answer: A
1. In 2001, RGI stated that Dalits who converted to Islam or Christianity are not a single ethnic group as they belong to different caste groups. Therefore, they cannot be included in the list of Scheduled Castes (SC) as per Clause (2) of Article 341, which requires a single ethnic group for inclusion. (UPSC 2014)
2. Whether the National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC) can enforce the implementation of constitutional reservation for the Scheduled Castes in the religious minority institutions? Examine. (UPSC 2018)
3. What are the two major legal initiatives by the State since Independence addressing discrimination against Scheduled Tribes (STs)? (UPSC 2017)
Source: The Hindu

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