States can have sub-groups among SCs/STs: Supreme Court

News: A five-judge Bench of the Supreme Court has held that States can sub-classify Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in the Central List to provide preferential treatment to the “weakest out of the weak”.


  • Background: The judgment came on the constitutional validity of Section 4(5) of the Punjab Scheduled Caste and Backward Classes (Reservation in Services) Act, 2006.The act allowed 50% of the reserved Scheduled Castes seats in the State to be allotted to Balmikis and Mazhabi Sikhs.
  • What has the court said? The court held that reservation has created inequalities within the reserved castes itself.There is a caste struggle within the reserved class as the benefits of reservation are being usurped by a few.
    • Hence,the State cannot be deprived of the power to take care of the qualitative and quantitative difference between different classes and to take ameliorative measures.
  • Significance of the Judgement: This decision is contrary to the five bench 2005 E V Chinnaiah v State of Andhra Pradesh judgement that ruled that only the President has the power to notify the inclusion or exclusion of a caste as a Scheduled Caste, and states cannot tinker with the list.
  • What next? Since a Bench of equal strength cannot overrule a previous decision, the court has referred it to a 7-judge Bench.

Additional Facts:

  • Note: The Central List of Scheduled Castes and Tribes is notified by the President under Articles 341 and 342 of the Constitution.The consent of the Parliament is required to exclude or include castes in the List.In short, States cannot unilaterally add or pull out castes from the List.
    • A caste notified as SC in one state may not be a SC in another state.These vary from state to state to prevent disputes as to whether a particular caste is accorded reservation or not.
    • No community has been specified as SC in Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland, and Andaman & Nicobar Islands and Lakshadweep.
    • The Constitution treats all Schedule Castes as a single homogeneous group.