A seven-judge bench in India ignited a debate by questioning if affluent sub-castes within disadvantaged groups should remain eligible for quotas.
The Bench on Tuesday questioned why affluent sub-castes among backward classes should not be “excluded” from the reservation list and made to compete with the general category.
The judges argued that these better-off communities could vacate reservation, creating space for more marginalized groups within the same category.
Justice Vikram Nath led the charge, suggesting advanced sub-castes compete in the general category. "Why stay there?" he asked, highlighting generational benefits accruing to successful individuals despite societal disadvantages faced by their group.
Justice B.R. Gavai echoed the sentiment, citing cases where children of high-ranking officials enjoyed reservation privileges despite lacking the hardships faced by others within the group. He emphasized the need for Parliament to address whether "powerful or influential" groups should be excluded.
Chief Justice Chandrachud drew parallels between implicit exclusion in reservation and the exclusion of forward castes. He explained that the Constitution prioritizes substantive equality over formal equality, justifying excluding some for the benefit of others.
This debate stems from a challenge to Punjab's law sub-categorizing Scheduled Castes (SCs) and granting additional quotas to more disadvantaged sub-groups. The state argues that classifying communities into general and backward can be applied within backward communities as well.
Punjab's Advocate-General defends the law, claiming it promotes equality by aiding the "weakest among the weak". He argues that prioritizing these groups doesn't constitute exclusion.
This stance contradicts a previous judgement deeming SCs a "homogenous group" and sub-classification an equality violation. However, Chief Justice Chandrachud acknowledges the state's specific knowledge of its communities and recognizes the potential for sub-groups requiring special attention.
Punjab further highlights the need for diversity in government and argues sub-classification deepens the impact of reservation, ensuring wider distribution of benefits. They emphasize the state's role in helping the "weakest person" and promoting inclusivity.
The bench counters by questioning the "no exclusion" claim in reservation itself, highlighting how reserving 50% excludes the general category. However, another lawyer emphasizes the vast difference between forward castes and even the better-off within disadvantaged groups.
The debate remains open, with arguments balancing the need for inclusivity with addressing disparities within marginalized communities. The final decision could significantly impact reservation policies and their effectiveness in achieving social justice.