SC/ST quota: apex court gets it wrong

The Supreme Court judgement limiting the benefits of reservation for members of the Scheduled Castes and Tribes to one’s own state will have adverse implications for their rights. A five-judge Constitution bench headed by Justice Ranjan Gogoi ruled that a person belonging to an SC/ST category in one state will not be entitled to the benefits and concessions allowed to SC/ST groups in another state. The reasoning is that each state has its own list of SC/ST groups which are entitled to reservation, and when a candidate migrates to another state for employment or education, he or she does not carry the reservation status along. The court also said that migration of a person’s reservation status to another state would result in depriving the SC/STs in the host state of their opportunities. This is actually a “sons of the soil’’ theory expressed in constitutional terms and will hurt the interests of SC/STs. 

It is wrong to look at reservation as a geographically-determined idea. The social, educational and other kinds of backwardness which entitle a person to reservation benefits do not change when he or she goes to another state. The experience of backwardness and discrimination, which is also mixed up with an inherited experience of oppression, related to birth and growing up, does not change with location. So, it is unjust and illogical to deny a candidate the benefit of reservation in states other than the home state. Every citizen has the fundamental right to live and work in any part of the country. To deny a benefit granted to the citizen by the Constitution because of a change in location would amount to denial of the right to live and work in any place. It will give strength to the “sons of the soil’’ theory advocated by some parties and groups in some parts of the country. It will also discourage SC/STs from going out of their state seeking better opportunities. 

The court has said that carrying the benefits of reservation from one state to another would be against the constitutional mandate. It has also said that states cannot add to or delete from the list of their SC/STs. The government should seek a review of the judgement from the court or bring forward legislation to ensure that it does not affect the existing scheme of reservation and the rights of SC/STs. The court seems to have left a window open for that by stating that parliament is vested with the power to alter the lists.

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SC/ST quota: apex court gets it wrong

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