The Centre on Wednesday said it supports the sub-classification of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes for quotas within reservations for government jobs and education, PTI reported.

The Union government made the statement before the Supreme Court’s seven-judge Constitution bench, which was hearing pleas on whether state governments have the power to sub-classify Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes for the purpose of providing quotas.

The case stems from a Punjab government notification from 1975 that divided its 25% reservation for the Scheduled Castes at the time into two categories.

In 2004, the top court had held that only Parliament, and not state legislatures, has the power to sub-classify Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes for reservations.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, told the court that the sub-classification “furthers the actual purpose behind reservations”.

Mehta said that the Centre opposes the 2004 judgement as it restricted state from framing policies by sub-classifying the zone of reservations appropriately, and diminished the constitutional guarantee of equal opportunity. “The central government is committed to the declared policy of reservation for backward classes as a measure of affirmative action to bring equality to those who have suffered hundreds of years of discrimination,” he said.

The solicitor general argued that the concept of equal opportunities operates at “a dual level – between open category and backward classes – and secondly, it has to operate even within the backward classes…”.

The lack of sub-classification perpetuates inequality within the reserved category and stops the state from framing appropriate policy in this regard, Mehta said.

“It may also be noted that the reservation benefits available are limited in nature,” the Centre said. “The state can only provide for a limited number of seats in government higher education institutions and posts in the government services which are reserved. The said seats and the posts are even otherwise a scarce commodity and therefore required to be re-distributed rationally.”

During the hearing on Tuesday, Justice Vikram Nath had 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.