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Uttar Pradesh government led by Yogi Adityanath recently gave reservation benefits available to Schedule Castes (SCs) to 17 castes which are currently under Other Backward Classes (OBCs). Similar attempts have been made in the past as well, during the tenures of Mulayam Singh and Akhilesh Yadav.
Is this move legally sound?
Article 341 of the Constitution provides that only the President and Parliament of India shall have power to modify the list of Scheduled Castes. State governments do not have any such power. Therefore, this move is in violation of the constitution. Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment Thawar Chand Gehlot has acknowledged this fact in Parliament.
Secondly, the OBCs in question here may not even qualify to be SCs. These castes may be backward in terms of educational and economic standards without any doubt. But SCs are those castes which have suffered untouchability and social discrimination in the past. These two concepts should not be confused with each other.
Then why are Caste Certificates still being issued?
Uttar Pradesh government had issued a notification in 2016 which gave SC status to 17 castes from OBCs. This was challenged in the court of law. In March 2017, Allahabad High Court passed an interim order which stated that in case any certificates are issued under the said notification, their validity will be subject to outcome of the case.
This order is being utilized by the U.P. government to issue Caste Certificates. They have directed authorities in all districts to issue these certificates to the notified castes belonging to OBCs. These certificates are provisional and subject to outcome of the case.
What is the political angle of this move?
Caste is a very sensitive nerve in the politics of U.P. Parties have been promising to give greater benefits of reservation to various castes in order to win their favour. The current move is on similar lines as by-polls are about to be conducted in U.P.
The 17 castes in question here may be genuinely deprived. However, well planned steps are needed to alleviate them, and not mere appeasement measures at the time of elections. The move to include them among SCs will face a lot of legal hurdles. A more legally sound measure in this situation could have been their inclusion in a separate compartment among the existing OBCs.