The Supreme Court on Thursday disagreed with its 2004 Constitution Bench verdict, which had ruled against giving preferential treatment to certain sub-castes within the Scheduled Castes.
The rethink by the top court is set to revive the debate on concept of creamy layer within SCs, and authorising states to give benefits of quota to groups that were not able to get the benefit of reservation.
A five-judge bench, headed by Justice Arun Mishra, held that it was of the view that reservations can be made for the sub-castes within the SCs.
Such classification would not amount to tinkering with the Presidential Order under Article 341, said the bench on Thursday.
"Once the State has the power to give reservations, it can also make sub classification to extend benefit to those sub castes not receiving the benefit," said Justice Mishra, reading out the operative part of the judgment.
The bench then noted that it was of the view that 2004 judgment in EV Chinnaiah was not correctly decided as it held otherwise.
"EV Chinnaiah requires a reconsideration," said the bench, pointing out that since Chinnaiah was also decided by a five-judge bench, the matter will have to settled by a larger bench.
Therefore, the court said, the matter will be placed before the Chief Justice of India for referring it to a bench of seven judges or more.
The bench was ruling on a batch of cases, in which the chief contention was whether states can sub-classify groups among the SCs and provide reservation.
The current case arose out of Punjab’s appeal against a 2010 judgment by the Punjab and Haryana High Court.
The High Court had struck down Section 4(5) of the Punjab Scheduled Castes and Backward Classes (Reservation in Services) Act, 2006 as unconstitutional. Section 4(5) of the Act provided for ‘first preference’ to the Balmikis and Mazbhi Sikhs castes for Scheduled Caste reservations in public services.
In doing so, the High Court had relied on Chinnaiah's judgment, saying only Parliament, not State Legislatures, can exclude castes deemed to be Scheduled Castes from the Presidential List under Article 341 of the Constitution.