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State's obligation is to emancipate deprived sections of the community, eradicate inequalities: Supreme Court

The Supreme Court's observation came in a judgment touching upon the question of whether state legislatures can create a sub-classification within the scheduled categories for purposes of reservation.

Shruti Mahajan

A Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court observed today that it is the State's obligation to eradicate inequalities and emancipate the deprived sections of the community (State of Punjab v. Davinder Singh & Ors).

If and when reservation provided for the benefit of backward classes creates inequality within the reserved category itself, it becomes pertinent for state legislatures to create further sub-classifications of these categories to ensure that the benefit of such reservation trickles down to the most deprived sections, the Court held.

This Constitution Bench of Justices Arun Mishra, Indira Banerjee, Vineet Saran, MR Shah and Aniruddha Bose held,

"State's obligation is to undertake the emancipation of the deprived section of the community and eradicate inequalities."
Supreme Court

In exercise of this power, or obligation, the State may engage in "redistribution and reallocation of resources and opportunities" and ensure equitable access to all the public in furtherance of the constitutional mandate of equal justice to all, the judgment authored by Justice Mishra says.

The Bench was considering the question of whether the Supreme Court's 2004 judgment in the EV Chinnaiah v. State of Andhra Pradesh case needs to be revisited.

The 2004 EV Chinnaiah judgment, rendered by another five-Judge Constitution Bench, held that states were not empowered to create sub-classification in the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes listed in the Presidential Order. However, the judgment rendered today offered a divergent view, holding that to further the cause of removing inequalities, states may exercise the power to create sub-classification in these categories and offer reservation benefits to the class more deprived.

"The preferential treatment would not tantamount to excluding other classes as total deprivation caused to any of the castes in the list of Scheduled Caste under Article 341(2). Caste is nothing but a class. It is the case of classification to provide benefit to all and to those deprived of the benefit of reservation, being the poorest of the poor."

The judgment notes that providing reservation was envisioned by the Constitution framers as a tool to provide affirmative action and rid the society of inequalities by providing equal opportunities to the deprived. As such, unequals cannot be treated as equals, and the entire Scheduled Caste category cannot be treated as one homogenous group when disparity exists within this category, the Court reasoned.

"The Constitution is an effective tool of social transformation; removal of inequalities intends to wipe off tears from every eye. The social realities cannot be ignored and overlooked while the Constitution aims at the comprehensive removal of the disparities. The very purpose of providing reservation is to take care of disparities."

The Court further elaborated that anthropological and statistical data vouched that the Scheduled Caste category is not a homogenous one, and that the Presidential Order listing the SC and STs was not frozen in time.

Moreover, the demographical difference of places would show that there exists a need for the states to adopt different methodologies for sub-division of these scheduled categories to ensure that the end of providing reservation benefits to the most downtrodden is achieved. The judgment states,

"The State has the competence to grant reservation benefit to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in terms of Articles 15(4) and 16(4) and also Articles 341(1) and 342(1). It prescribes the extent/ percentage of reservation to different classes. The State Government can decide the manner and quantum of reservation."

The appeals before the Supreme Court arose out of a judgment of the Punjab & Haryana High Court, which had quashed a state law which provided for preferential treatment in reservation in specified service to two specific communities within the Scheduled Caste. The High Court's judgment was passed in light of EV Chinnaiah's judgment.

However, now with two Constitution Benches of coordinate strength taking divergent views on the question of the state legislature's competence to carve out sub-classes within scheduled categories, the issue will be placed before a larger Bench of 7 or more judges for reconsideration. Today's judgment states,

"We endorse the opinion of a Bench of 3 Judges that E.V. Chinnaiah is required to be revisited by a larger Bench; more so, in view of further development and the amendment of the Constitution, which have taken place. We cannot revisit E.V. Chinnaiah being Bench of coordinate strength."

Read Judgment:

State of Punjab vs Davinder Singh.pdf
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