Is it appropriate to sub-classify a caste to provide reservation?


This article discusses the sub-classification of Scheduled Castes in order to improve the lives of some socially and economically disadvantaged sections within a given caste by giving them reservations. The bench chaired by retired Justice Arun Mishra supported the division of Scheduled Castes (SCs) into “more backward” and “backward” castes and gave preference to the more backward castes for reservation in appointments in the case State of Punjab and Others v. Davinder Singh and Others[1]. The nine-judge bench in Indra Sawhney versus Union of India and Others (1992) observed that such sub-classification is permissible, whereas the bench in E.V. Chinnaiah versus State of Andhra Pradesh and Others (2004) misread the Indra Sawhney case, the five-judge bench decided to refer the question for a final decision to an 11-judge bench. Herein, we’ll try to understand the various aspects related to such a classification and to what extent does it prove itself constitutionally valid.


The sub-classification into “backward” and “more backward” must be understood from the start since Article 16(4) of the Constitution recognises a category for “backward class of citizens”; as a result, sub-classification, if any, should be done for that only. The subcategories do not require additional classification. Nevertheless, the judgment’s paragraph 92A, which deals with the matter, is unclear on this point.

In the case of E.V. Chinnaiah v. State of Andhra Pradesh[2], the Supreme Court held that the Scheduled Castes form one “homogenous” group and that any inter-se classification within the Scheduled Castes would be a violation of Article 14. This ruling went against conventional wisdom and what would seem to be obvious. The court was dealing with a law passed by the Andhra Pradesh government based on the report of the Justice Ramachandra Raju Commission, which recommended sub-dividing the Scheduled Castes into four groups and apportioning reservations separately for each. This was to ensure that all communities within the Scheduled Castes, particularly those that have been oppressed and marginalised the most historically and have been deprived of the opportunities of education and formal employment, receive adequate and equitable representation in educational institutions and state services.

However, the court proceeded to strike down the law on the premise that the declaration of a caste as a Scheduled Caste in the presidential list issued under Article 341 meant that it became subsumed in the broad monolith and was to be treated at par with the other Scheduled Castes for all purposes.

The state of Punjab v. Davinder Singh case followed, in which a five-judge bench overturned the earlier ruling in E V Chinnaiah v. State of Andhra Pradesh and Others[3] that state governments lacked the authority to designate sub-categories of SCs for the purpose of reservation. The court also sent it to a 7-judge Bench because a bench of equal strength cannot reverse a previous ruling.

The decision concerned whether Section 4(5) of the Punjab Scheduled Caste and Backward Classes (Reservation in Services) Act, 2006, was constitutional. Balmikis and Mazhabi Sikhs are eligible to get 50% of the reserved seats for Scheduled Castes in the State under the provisions of the statute.

The above two cases about the different acts brings us to three significant questions:

  1. Whether the impugned Act is violative of Article 341(2) of the Constitution of India?
  2. Whether the impugned enactment is constitutionally invalid for lack of legislative competence?
  3. Whether the impugned enactment creates sub-classification or micro-classification of Scheduled Castes so as to violate Article 14 of the Constitution of India?

Dealing with the first question of whether the impugned act is violative of Article 341(2) of the Constitution of India , it can be said that a new concept has been applied by this Court to Scheduled Castes also. While considering Indra Sawney in recent judgment by this Court in Jarnail Singh & Ors. v. Lachhmi Narain Gupta & Ors.[4], it was held that the object of Article 16(4) is to ensure that all backward classes march forward hand in hand and that will not be possible if only selective few get selected in all the coveted services of the Government. It was opined that the application of the ‘creamy layer concept’ to Articles 341[5] and 342[6] does not tinker with the Presidential List. In Indra Sawhney and Ors. v. Union of India and Ors.[7] a reference was made to the judgement in Narayana Rao and Anr. v. State of A.P. and Anr.[8] wherein the learned Judge opined: “94…Article 15(4) or Article 16(4) are not designed to achieve abolition of caste-system-much less to remove the meanness or other evils in the society. They are designed to provide opportunities in education, services and other fields to raise the educational social and economic levels of those lagging behind, and once this is achieved, these Articles must be deemed to have served their purpose.

But it should be also noted that according to Article 341, the President may specify the castes, races, tribes, or portions of or groups within castes that shall, for the purposes of this Constitution, be deemed to be Scheduled Castes in relation to any State or Union Territory after consultation with the Governor thereof by public notification. This means that there can only be one Scheduled Caste List for a State, and that List must include all designated castes, races, tribes, parts, or groupings that were informed in that Presidential List. According to Article 341(2)[9] of the Indian Constitution, only the Parliament may add or remove anything from the aforementioned list. Everywhere in the Constitution that the term “Scheduled Castes” is used, it only refers to the list compiled by the President in accordance with Article 341. There is no mention of any sub-category or division within the said list, with the possible exception of Article 330[10], which refers to the reservation of seats for Scheduled Castes in the House of People but does not apply to the facts of this case. It is also evident from the aforementioned Article 341 that there is no provision to sub-divide, sub-classify, or sub-group these castes that are found in the Presidential List of Scheduled Castes, with the exception of a limited power to make an exclusion or inclusion in the list by an Act of Parliament. In the Draft Constitution, there was no Article similar to Article 341 as is found in the present Constitution. Noticing the need for creating a list of Scheduled Castes a Draft Article 300A was introduced in the Draft Constitution and while introducing the same Dr. Ambedkar stated the object of introducing the said Article in the following words : – “The object of these two articles, as I stated, was to eliminate the necessity of burdening the Constitution with long lists of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. It is now proposed that the President, in consultation with the Governor or Ruler of a State should have the power to issue a general notification in the Gazette specifying all the Castes and tribes or groups thereof deemed to be Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes for the purposes of the privileges which have been defined for them in the Constitution”. From this, we can get the legislative intent behind the framing of this Article 341. Therefore, it is clear that the Constitution intended all the castes including the sub-castes, races and tribes mentioned in the list to be members of one group for the purpose of the Constitution and this group could not be sub-divided for any purpose.

From this we come to the second question of whether the impugned enactment is constitutionally invalid for lack of legislative competence. In the Indra Sawney on the question of sub−classification within a class. At least five out of nine Judges held that amongst the backward, there may be some more backward, and when State chooses to make such classification, it would be permissible in law. Unequivocally in the majority, it was held that backward classes can be classified into more backward and less backward classes. The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes fall within backward classes. There is no warrant for the submission that there cannot be a classification within the Scheduled Castes. In M.R. Balaji & Ors. v. State of Mysore & Ors.[11] , it was held that sub-classification between backward and more backward classes is necessary to help more backward classes. In State of Kerala & Anr. v. N.M. Thomas & Ors.[12] , it was laid down that there could be no objection to further classification within a class. Men are born different, and some sort of differential treatment is required to achieve proportional equality. In case it is assumed that all castes are homogeneous by virtue of being in the List within Article 341, it is only addition, or deletion of any caste in the list would be impermissible as held by the Constitution Bench in State of Maharashtra v. Milind & Ors.[13] and Bir Singh v. Delhi Jal Board & Ors.[14] It is permissible for the State to give preferential treatment. within the list based on the comparative backwardness of any class, there is nothing in Article 341, which prohibits the same.

However, if we discuss the opposing side in truth, the challenged Act does not establish reservations for members of the Scheduled Castes in state employment and educational institutions. It was contended that this reservation was already created for the State’s underprivileged groups when the State decided to use its authority under Articles 15(4)[15] and 16(4)[16]. It had previously allocated a portion of the reserved allotment to the Outcasts during that process. As a result, the State had already used Articles 15(4) and 16 of the Constitution’s ability to make reservations (4). It is further argued that the State only split the Scheduled Castes in the Presidential List by re-grouping them under the contested Act. The State cannot depend on Articles 15(4) and 16(4), nor on Entries 41 of List II and 25 of List III of the VII Schedule in order to reorganise the Scheduled Castes List. The issue of allocating any reservations under this statute to the backward classes does not arise because the State has already given the Scheduled Castes a specific portion of the entire quota of the reservations available for the backward classes. Therefore, it is evident that the Act only attempts to redistribute the quota that has already been made by subclassifying the Scheduled Castes, which are otherwise considered to be a class unto itself. Due to the fact that the Scheduled Castes are treated by the Constitution as a single integrated class of the most backward citizens, the Legislature of a State is not authorised to divide them into different compartments with a different percentage of reservation for each, as this would discourage individual members’ efforts to excel on the basis of merit. See Fundamental Duty under Article 51[17]. (j). Reservation policies should be implemented in a way that supports the goals of fostering community among all citizens, preserving individual dignity, and upholding national unity.

Now, the above data brings us to the most important question about the issue of sub-classification i.e. whether the impugned enactment creates sub-classification or micro-classification of Scheduled Castes so as to violate Article 14 of the Constitution of India.

Article 16(4) covers all backward classes, including Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. The expression used in Article 16(4) is “any backward class of citizens”. The expression “not adequately represented” covers all socially and educationally backward classes, who, on account of their backwardness, are inadequately represented in the State’s services. The scope of Article 16(4) is wider in its ambit than Article 15(4). The expression “backward class of citizens” used in Article 16(4) covers in its ambit the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes and other backward classes, including the socially and educationally backward class. The preferential treatment is a facet of equality under Article 14[18]. Any enactment by the State giving preference to more backward amongst the backward fulfils the object of Article 16(4). Six out of nine Judges in Indra Sawney held that Article 16(4) is not an exception to Article 16(1). The preferential treatment given to certain Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes does not violate Article 14. It intends to provide proportional equality. The classification is based on intelligible differentia. The differentia bears a reasonable nexus with the object, which is sought to be achieved, of equitable representation of all Scheduled Castes in the Government service. The specific reservations are required to bring about real equality of opportunity between unequals and must be ensured by the State. However, In The State of Jammu and Kashmir v. Triloki Nath Khosa and Ors., this Court held that Article 16 of the Constitution which ensures to all citizen equality of opportunity in matters relating to employment is but an instance or incident of the guarantee of equality contained in Article 14. The concept of equal opportunity undoubtedly permeates the whole spectrum of an individual’s employment from appointment through promotion and termination to the payment of gratuity and pension. But the concept of equality has an inherent limitation arising from the very nature of the constitutional guarantee. Equality is for equals. That is to say that those who are similarly circumstanced are entitled to an equal treatment. Mini-classifications based on micro- distinctions are false to our egalitarian faith and only substantial and straightforward classifications plainly promoting relevant goals can have constitutional validity. In Akhil Bharatiya Soshit Karamchari Sangh (Railway) v. Union of India[19] it was stated that “We have already held that the members of Scheduled Castes form a class by themselves and any further sub- classification would be impermissible while applying the principle of reservation”. Allotting a separate percentage of reservation from amongst the total reservation allotted to the Scheduled Castes to different groups amongst the Scheduled Castes amounted to depriving one class of the benefits of such reservation at least partly. In M. R. Balaji v. State of Mysore[20] and State of A. P. v. P. Sagar and in n Kumari K.S. Jayasree and Anr. v. The State of Kerala and Anr. the Court held that classification of backwardness on the basis of castes would violate both Articles 15(1)[21] and 15(4) and would ultimately harm right to equality provided under Article 14 of the Constitution of India.


We can all agree that it is necessary to review bad decisions in light of evolving events and situations. The Supreme Court’s involvement in the conflict over numerical quotas at higher education institutions has raised new questions about its goals. The opponents of the reservation plan rationalisation want to keep the system mostly the same. It is easy to foresee that the coming days will be ones of change. The socioeconomic makeup of India is changing, and nothing can stop it. The topic of sub-classification within a specific caste needs to be reconsidered.

Article by Vaishnavi Singh


[1] State of Punjab v. Davinder Singh, 2020 SCC OnLine SC 677

[2] E. V. Chinnaiah vs. State of Andhra Pradesh and others, AIR 2005, SC162 (2005(1) S.C.C. 394)

[3] E. V. Chinnaiah vs. State of Andhra Pradesh and others, AIR 2005, SC162 (2005(1) S.C.C. 394)

[4] Jarnail Singh & Ors. v. Lachhmi Narain Gupta & Ors., (2018) 10 SCC 396

[5] The Constitution of India, 1950, Art. 341

[6] The Constitution of India, 1950, Art. 342

[7] Indra Sawhney and Ors. v. Union of India and Ors. [1992 Supp (3) SCC 217]

[8] Narayana Rao and Anr. v. State of A.P. and Anr., AIR 1987 AP 57

[9] The Constitution of India, 1950, Art. 341(2)

[10] The Constitution of India, 1950, Art. 330

[11] M.R. Balaji & Ors. v. State of Mysore & Ors., 1963 Supp. (1) SCR 439

[12] State of Kerala & Anr. v. N.M. Thomas & Ors., (1976) 2 SCC 310

[13] State of Maharashtra v. Milind & Ors., (2001) 1 SCC 4

[14] Bir Singh v. Delhi Jal Board & Ors., (2018) 10 SCC 312

[15] The Constitution of India, 1950, Art. 15(4)

[16] The Constitution of India, 1950, Art. 16(4)

[17] The Constitution of India, 1950, Art. 51

[18] The Constitution of India, 1950, Art. 14

[19] Akhil Bharatiya Soshit Karamchari Sangh (Railway) v. Union of India 1981 AIR 298, 1981 SCR (2) 185

[20] M. R. Balaji v. State of Mysore ((1963) Supp 1 SCR 439)

[21] The Constitution of India, 1950, Art. 15(1)


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