A person belonging to a Scheduled Caste (SC) or Scheduled Tribe (ST) in a state will not be deemed to be SC or ST in another state to which he/ she migrates for the purpose of employment or education, the Supreme Court clarified on Thursday. But it added that “pan-India reservation” would apply in the case of Delhi. This means that in Delhi, for both central services and those under the union territory, reservation will be open to all SCs/ STs from across the country.
The ruling is in line with past Government of India circulars, according to which SCs/ STs will not lose their SC/ ST status in their state of origin and will be entitled to reservation benefits there, but not in the state to which they have migrated if their caste is not notified there.
A five-judge Constitution bench of Justices Ranjan Gogoi, N V Ramana, Mohan M Shantanagoudar, S Abdul Nazeer and R Banumathi unanimously held that “a person who is recognised as a member of Scheduled Castes/ Scheduled Tribes in his original state, will be entitled to all the benefits of reservation under the Constitution in that state only, and not in other states/ union territories and not entitled to the benefits of reservation in the migrated state/ union territory”.
However, while four judges upheld the “pan-India reservation” for services in Delhi, Justice Banumathi disagreed and called for drawing a distinction between central services and those under the union territory for which recruitment is done by its Staff Selection Board. Justice Banumathi was of the view that pan-India reservation should be restricted to central service and not extended to Group B, C and D posts.
Upholding the pan-India reservation rule for Delhi as Constitutional, the bench relied on the Centre’s submission that “members of the Delhi Administrative Subordinate Services are the feeder cadre for Central Civil Services Group B (DANICS). It is for these reasons that the policy (of pan-India eligibility) is consistently adopted”. The court held these are “general central services”.
The bench also ruled that if any state wanted to extend reservation benefits to a new group, “constitutional discipline would require the state to make its views in the matter prevail with the central authority, so as to enable an appropriate parliamentary exercise to be made by an amendment of the Lists of Scheduled Castes/ Scheduled Tribes for that particular state.” The bench cautioned that “unilateral action by states on the touchstone of Article 16(4) of the Constitution could be a possible trigger point of constitutional anarchy and, therefore, must be held to be impermissible under the Constitution”.
P S Krishnan, former secretary, welfare ministry, said the SC had only reiterated the Constitutional provisions of Articles 341 and 342, which define SCs/STs with respect to any state or union territory. “Someone who is an untouchable in one state may not be so in another. For instance, the dhobi caste is treated as untouchables in North India, so are the Vannan caste of washermen in Kerala, but they are not considered to be SC in the rest of South India,” he said.
Advocate Rahul Singh, who has handled cases of Dalit atrocities, said the issue also needs to be looked at from the perspective of whether it makes migrant labourers more vulnerable. “The SC and ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act also doesn’t apply to those categorised as SC/ ST in one state, but who migrate to a state where they are not notified as SC/ ST. These issues need to be studied further,” he said.