‘Quotas promote efficiency’: Supreme Court starts hearing on SC/ST reservation | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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‘Quotas promote efficiency’: Supreme Court starts hearing on SC/ST reservation

Feb 07, 2024 04:46 AM IST

The top court observed that reservation for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (SC/ST) was consistent with the need to maintain efficiency in administration

The Indian Constitution does not postulate that people belonging to marginalised groups are inefficient while those from other groups are competent, a seven-judge bench of the Supreme Court observed on Tuesday, adding reservation for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (SC/ST) was consistent with the need to maintain efficiency in administration.

Supreme Court starts hearing on the permissibility of subclassification within the SC/ST reservation. (HT Archive)
Supreme Court starts hearing on the permissibility of subclassification within the SC/ST reservation. (HT Archive)

“It depends how you define efficiency. If you define efficiency in an inclusive sense, then the inclusion of people who have hitherto been excluded from governance promotes efficiency. Also, putting people from the marginalised communities in important positions of responsibility itself is receptive to the needs of those communities and to the need for inclusion as a social doctrine. Therefore, it’s not something that detracts from efficiency,” said the bench led by Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud.

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On Tuesday, the Constitution bench, also comprising justices BR Gavai, Vikram Nath, Bela M Trivedi, Pankaj Mithal, Manoj Misra and Satish Chandra Sharma, commenced the hearing on the permissibility of subclassification within the SC/ST reservation as it made some significant remarks on the purpose of reservation for marginalised groups and the requirement of maintaining efficiency in administration.

Article 335 of the Constitution states that the claims of the members of SC/ST groups shall be taken into consideration “consistently with the maintenance of efficiency of administration” in the making of appointments to services and posts under the Centre or states.

On the first day of hearing, Punjab’s advocate general Gurminder Singh and the state’s additional advocate general Shadan Farasat argued in favour of subclassification within SC/ST communities to provide preference in quota to Balmikis and Mazhabi Sikhs. Farasat referred to Article 335, contending it was not a limiting provision but an enhancing provision for reservation and also for sub-categorisation. “Efficiency is contextual,” he argued.

Responding, the bench said that efficiency is a concept depending on how it is defined. “Because the postulate of the Constitution is not that people who belong to the marginalised groups are inefficient and those who belong to other groups are efficient...and therefore, having more of the reserved categories will detract from efficiency. It’s to the contrary,” said the court.

“It’s consistent with the need to maintain efficiency in administration,” it added.

Shadan said diversity is essential for efficiency in administration, especially in government offices because public officers are expected to deal with diverse groups of people.

At one point of the day-long hearing, justice Nath asked Punjab’s advocate general whether the state was in favour of putting some of the subcastes within the SC/ST category outside the umbrella of reservation benefits if they have done consistently better and are on par with the unreserved categories. “So, they should come out of it and compete with the general. Why stay there? Those who are backward within the backward, let them have the reservation,” observed the judge.

Justice Gavai also stepped in to opine that within a particular backward class, when certain castes have reached a certain position and are on par with forward castes, they should move out.

“But then, that is only for Parliament to decide... now what happens, a person from SC/ST gets into IAS/IPS, etc. Once you are there, their children do not suffer the disadvantages that persons from the other SC communities suffer. But, by virtue of reservation, they are also entitled to the benefits for the second generation and again the third generation,” said justice Gavai.

Singh replied that though it is for the President to declare SC/ST groups under Article 341 and states cannot tinker with that list, he was in agreement with the proposition that the subgroups that have attained forwardness should exit and make rooms for those who really need quota benefits. Singh also pointed out that a five-judge bench in the Jarnail Singh case (2018) has made the creamy layer test applicable to reservation in promotions of SC/STs.

The court will continue hearing the case on Wednesday.

The matter was referred to the larger bench by a five-judge bench in 2020, observing that the judgment of another five-judge bench in EV Chinnaiah vs State of Andhra Pradesh (2005), which held that subclassification was not permissible, may require a reconsideration. This judgment held that scheduled castes form homogenous classes and there cannot be any subdivision.

The 2005 judgment by the apex court became the basis for the Punjab and Haryana high court to quash a 1975 notification of the Punjab Government, dividing its existing 25% reservation for SCs into two categories. Half of these seats were to be offered to Balmikis and Mazhabi Sikhs, while the rest were for the remaining groups within the SC category. This notification was nixed by the high court in 2006.

Later, the Punjab government passed the Punjab Scheduled Caste and Backward Classes (Reservation in Services) Act, 2006. It introduced “first preference” reservation for the Balmikis and Mazhabi Sikhs, laying down that 50% of reserved seats would be offered first to these two communities before all other SC groups. But in 2010, the high court struck down this provision of the Act based on the decision in EV Chinnaiah, leading to an appeal by the state government in the top court.

Finally, in 2020, a five-judge bench referred the matter to a larger bench, noting that the 2005 judgment by the coordinate bench requires to be revisited. While doing so, this bench said: “Reservation was not contemplated for all the time by the framers of the Constitution. On the one hand, there is no exclusion of those who have come up, on the other hand, if subclassification is denied, it would defeat the right to equality by treating unequal as equal.”

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