The Supreme Court’s recent ruling in favour of ‘quota within quota’ for the Scheduled Caste communities has reignited hope among those fighting for sub-categorisation of the SCs in the Telugu states of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh to ensure equitable distribution of the reservation benefits.
Before the bifurcation in 2014, the combined Andhra Pradesh had witnessed a prolonged agitation demanding sub-classification of the SCs to provide preferential treatment to the more deprived sections among them.
The stir was spearheaded by the leaders of the ‘Madiga’ community, considered the most disadvantaged group among the SCs. It was argued that since the SCs don’t constitute a homogenous group, there must be a sub-classification based on population and social backwardness to ensure the benefits of reservation in government jobs and higher education institutions percolate down to the weakest sections.
The main grievance was that ‘Mala’ community, a relatively more educated and prosperous group with higher political representation, had cornered the quota benefits for decades.
Those demanding the categorisation of SCs based on education, income and social status believe that it would help give a leg up to the socially and educationally backward Madiga community.
“The latest observations of the Supreme Court come as a relief to members of thousands of sub-castes among SCs who have not been able to avail reservation benefits despite being eligible. For social justice, equal distribution, and the spirit of the constitution, this verdict is a shining example,” said a spokesman of the Madiga Reservation Porata Samithi (MRPS) which had spearheaded the agitation in the past.
While favouring the sub-classification of SCs, the apex court ruled that the state governments were entitled to decide on the categorisation and fix the quantum of quota within quota.
However, it referred the matter to a larger constitution bench for a final decision.
The demand for SC categorisation has support from the entire political spectrum. Despite such a broad political consensus, the issue has been hanging fire since 2004 when a five-judge bench of the Supreme Court struck down a legislation passed by AP assembly, categorising the SCs into four groups — A, B, C and D — on the basis of their population and social backwardness.
With support from all political parties, the then Congress government, headed by YS Rajasekhara Reddy, got the Assembly to adopt a resolution in December 2004 seeking a constitutional amendment to give effect to the SC categorisation.
The Union Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment had constituted a commission of inquiry headed by Usha Mehra, a former judge of the Delhi High Court, which also favoured restoration of classification of SCs to meet the State-specific demand. It favoured a constitutional amendment for the purpose.
The Ministry took the views of the National Commission for SCs over the commission’s report but no follow-up was done.
Ball in NDA’s court
“We had represented the matter to the Narendra Modi government on several occasions but there is no response. This is despite the fact that the BJP is also in favour of SC categorisation,” a senior leader of the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) told The Federal.
Senior Congress leader G. Narayana Reddy said that his party had done everything possible to ensure justice for the ‘Madiga’ community and it was for the Centre to implement the policy through constitutional amendment.
The CPI(M) has, however, responded cautiously to the apex court’s ruling. “We are against applying creamy layer to scheduled castes and scheduled tribes which would mean that some sections of these communities would be deprived of affirmative action. So, we oppose these comments of the SC on applying creamy layer to SCs and STs. However, within the reservations, there is already some sub-reservations in some cases. So, it depends on the concrete situation in each state,” said the CPI (M) politburo member Brinda Karat.
Not a final decision
A five-judge Constitution Bench of the apex court ruled that states can sub-classify the list of Scheduled Castes (SCs), Scheduled Tribes (STs), and Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBCs), to provide preferential treatment to the especially deprived among them ‘to achieve the real purpose of reservation.’
“When the reservation creates inequalities within the reserved castes itself, it is required to be taken care of by the State making sub-classification and adopting a distributive justice method so that State largesse does not concentrate in few hands and equal justice to all is provided. It involves redistribution and reallocation of resources and opportunities and equitable access to all public and social goods to fulfil the very purpose of the constitutional mandate of equal justice to all,” the Bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra ruled.
It disagreed with a 2004 judgment of the Supreme Court in EV Chinnaiah vs. State of Andhra Pradesh case. That judgment, also by a five-judge Constitution Bench of the court, had held that ‘reservation is provided to a homogeneous group’ and therefore, ‘further classification… is constitutionally impermissible.’
Since it could not overrule a decision by a Bench of the same strength, the Bench requested the Chief Justice to place the matter before a Bench of seven judges or more, for a final decision.
The MRPS and other social justice activists are hopeful that the final verdict would be in favour of categorisation.
The campaign for sub-categorisation was launched by MRPS in 1994 in Prakasam district and soon spread to the entire state of combined AP. Following mounting pressure, the then TDP government appointed a Commission of Inquiry headed by Justice P Ramachandra Raju in 1996.
After gathering data on the reservations, the Commission found that there was a disproportionate distribution of reservation benefits in favour of the ‘Mala’ and the ‘Adi Andhra’ groups of SC communities compared to their respective populations and that both the ‘Madiga’ and ‘Relli’ communities were inadequately represented in both public appointments and educational institutions.