The Centre told the Supreme Court on Thursday that the concept of “creamy layer” cannot be applied to deny the benefits of reservation in promotions to government employees from the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, News18 reported.

Attorney General KK Venugopal told a five-judge Constitution Bench that the stigma of backwardness is still attached to these communities and there is no judgement saying those among them who are affluent can be denied benefits.

The “creamy layer” refers to the relatively wealthy people from marginalised communities. Based on a 2006 ruling, they do not get reservations if they are from the Other Backward Classes. In November, the Supreme Court had agreed to hear a petition that has demanded the same exclusion for the “creamy layer” in the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes as well.

Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices Kurian Joseph, RF Nariman, Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Indu Malhotra were hearing the petition. Venugopal said there was a legal presumption of the backwardness of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. “Once backwardness is presumed and benefits are given, it cannot be taken back,” The Indian Express quoted him as saying. “Only Parliament can make any changes.”

When the Supreme Court asked the attorney general about “intra-caste competition” among Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes since some people have progressed while others have not yet reaped any benefits, Venugopal said that despite the progress of some, “social backwardness remains a permanent imprint.”

“They have to marry from their own caste,” Venugopal said, according to PTI. “Even a well-off person of SC/ST community cannot marry from a higher caste. The fact that some persons have become affluent does not take away the imprint of caste and backwardness.”

The court is still hearing arguments in the matter.

On July 11, the Supreme Court had refused to pass an interim order against its 2006 verdict and said that a five-judge Constitution bench will first decide if a seven-judge bench is needed to look into the previous judgement.

The 2006 judgement in the M Nagaraj vs Union of India case had held that the state is not bound to make reservations for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in promotions in government jobs. But if the government wishes to introduce such quotas, it needs to collect quantifiable data showing the backwardness of these classes. The order said that if reservation is brought in, it must not breach the 50% ceiling or “obliterate” the “creamy layer”.