We have been talking about the need for incorporating a sub-class or creamy layer among the scheduled tribes (ST) and scheduled castes (SC) in terms of reservation and we are glad that the apex court is seized of the matter. We would say, the debate is long overdue. What has been missing from the general debate is how long the reservation system is going to continue. It simply cannot go on forever.
In fact, there has to be a review of the constitutional status every ten years and in that the question of whether the aims and objectives of providing reservation and other benefits has been achieved or not are assessed and whether the special facilities have had the desired effect are studied. More than three decades back when the issue came up for debate, tribal legislators vociferously opposed it. Since then, the review process became a routine affair with the committee putting its stamp of approval on continuance.
Another area of importance is the emergence of a tribal elite or a privileged class of ST families whose sons and daughters continue to enjoy the benefits taking after their grandfathers and fathers who had been able to achieve a higher status through ST benefits, while those under-privileged tribal folks in the interior areas are not really getting the benefits of being a ST either through poverty or lack of support from the well-entrenched ST babus.
The Supreme court on Tuesday asked whether children of civil service officers from Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes should continue availing reservation. Those who benefited from caste-based reservation should make way for the more backward among them, the Supreme Court observed.
A seven-judge Constitution bench was hearing a case on whether state governments could sub-classify Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. The case stems from a Punjab government notification from 1975 that divided its 25 per cent reservation for the Scheduled Castes at the time into two categories. Justice Vikram Nath asked whether the rationale behind the sub-classification was that among a particular category, some sub-castes may now fare better and so, should now compete with the general category. Justice BS Gavai also asked whether the children of civil service officers from Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes should continue availing reservation.
“What happens is a person from Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe gets into IAS, IPS. Once he is an IAS or IPS or IFS, his children no longer suffer the disadvantages that the persons from the category who are residing in the villages but then by virtue of reservation they are also entitled to get it in second generation or third generation.” The advocate general and Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal said that such persons would be classified in the creamy layer and thus be excluded.
In Wednesday hearing, the Centre said it supports the sub-classification of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes for quotas within reservations for government jobs and education. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, told the court that the sub-classification “furthers the actual purpose behind reservations”.
In Manipur, the majority community has long been at the butt-end of allegations of robbing the benefits meant for the hill people while blindsiding the fact that it was mostly bureaucrats from the hills who are at the helm of state affairs with only a sprinkling from the valley.
While one can still count the number of direct IAS and IPS officers from the majority community, there are plenty from among the hill communities who enjoy the benefits of being from the Scheduled Tribe communities and they have been ruling the roost all this time and even enjoying the double benefit of reservation at both entry point and promotion avenue as well. It was a common refrain among employees of all ranks from the valley that ST employees are again and again enjoying the benefit in times of promotion also, thereby causing much heartburn. This has been the prime reason for sections of the majority community coming up with a demand for transformation into the ST category.