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In EV Chinnaiah, the Apex Court had held it to be unconstitutional for state legislatures to provide a further sub-categorization of Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST).
The Supreme Court today held that state legislatures may make laws to give preferential reservation to sub-castes within categories.
In doing so, the Court has diverged from another Constitution Bench judgment that held the contrary.
The decision was rendered by a Constitution Bench of Justices Arun Mishra, Indira Banerjee, Vineet Saran, MR Shah and Aniruddha Bose.
The question for consideration before the Bench was whether the Supreme Court's 2004 judgment in the case of EV Chinnaiah v. the State of Andhra Pradesh needed to be revisited. In that judgment, the Apex Court had held it to be unconstitutional for state legislatures to provide a further sub-categorization of Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST).
While pronouncing the judgement, Justice Mishra said that the Bench is of the view that once the state has the power to give reservations, it can also make sub-classification to extend benefit to those sub-castes not receiving the benefit.
The issue has now been placed before the Chief Justice for forming a larger bench to definitively decide the question.
The question was posed before the Supreme Court in a batch of appeals against the decision of the Punjab & Haryana High Court which struck down Section 4(5) of the Punjab Scheduled Castes and Backward Classes (Reservation in Services) Act of 2006 as being unconstitutional.
This provision had carved out a preference in favour of Balmiki and Mazhbi Sikhs from the 50 per cent quota reserved for the SC communities in case of direct recruitments. This provision was struck down by the High Court based on EV Chinnaiah, which held that all the Scheduled astes enlisted under Article 341(1) of the Constitution of India form one homogenous group and this group cannot be severed into sub-divisions or sub-classifications.
However, a three-judge Bench of the Supreme Court in 2014 referred the decision laid down in EV Chainnaiah to a larger Bench for consideration in light of Article 338 and the law laid down in the Indra Sawhney judgment.
After hearing the parties on the questions of the constitutional validity of the provision in question, the state's legislative power to enact such provisions, and on whether EV Chinnaiah needs to be revisited, the judgment in the matter was reserved on August 17.