The question before the Supreme Court is whether State legislation can give preferential treatment to specific castes within the Scheduled Castes.
The current case arises out of the State of Punjab’s appeal against a 2010 judgment by the Punjab and Haryana High Court. The High Court struck down Section 4(5) of the Punjab Scheduled Castes and Backward Classes (Reservation in Services) Act, 2006 (hereafter ‘Act’) as unconstitutional. Section 4(5) of the Act provides for ‘first preference’ to the Balmikis and Mazbhi Sikhs castes for Scheduled Caste reservations in public services.
The High Court reasoned that Section 4(5) created an unconstitutional sub-division within the Scheduled Castes, citing the precedent established by E.V. Chinnaiah. The Supreme Court in E.V. Chinnaiah had established that any ‘sub-classification’ of the Scheduled Castes would violate Article 14 of the Constitution. It had stressed that only Parliament, not State Legislatures, can exclude castes deemed to be Scheduled Castes from the Presidential List under Article 341 of the Constitution.
The State of Punjab has appealed the High Court’s judgment on the ground that E.V. Chinnaiah does not apply to the current case. It claims that its legislature had the competence to enact Section 4(5) of the Act. In addition, it has raised the issue of whether a seven-judge Bench of the Court needs to revisit E.V. Chinnaiah.
Over the course of three days, starting on 14 July 2020, Justice Arun Mishra's Bench heard the counsels present final arguments. In the first half of final arguments, the Bench heard the counsels offer different interpretations of the precedents set in E.V. Chinnaiah and Indra Sawhney. In the second half, the counsels argued on the question of whether the current dispute should be referred to a larger Bench. On 27 August, the five-judge bench referred E. V. Chinnaiah to a larger bench.
1. Whether the provisions contained under Section 4(5) of The Punjab Scheduled Castes and Backward Classes (Reservation in Services) Act, 2006 are constitutionally valid?
2. Whether the State had the legislative competence to enact the provisions contained under Section 4(5) of the Act?
3. Whether a seven-judge or larger bench should revisit the decision in E.V. Chinnaiah v. State of Andhra Pradesh [(2005) 1 SCC 394]?