SC quashes Bihar notification to declare Lohar caste ST.

The Supreme Court has quashed a 2016 Bihar government notification, through which the government had given people from Lohar caste the status of Scheduled Tribes (ST) — from the earlier Extremely Backward Classes (EBC). The court ruled that Bihar’s Lohar or Lohaar community is not the same as “Lohra or Lohra”, which are ST communities in several districts. The court also asked the state government to pay Rs 5 lakh as costs the petitioner may have incurred because a case was lodged against him, and ruled, “We quash the impugned Notification.” The court’s verdict, which came on February 21, was in response to a PIL, filed by one Sunil Kumar Rai from Bihar, challenging the changed status of Lohars. According to the petitioner, police issued non-bailable warrants against him following a case filed by a Lohar resident, and that he faced subsequent harassment. Lohars in Bihar, constituting nearly 2 per cent of the state’s population, benefitted in government jobs since their changed caste status since August 23, 2016.

The Supreme Court’s division bench of Justices K M Joseph and Hrishikesh Roy stated in their judgement: “The Lohar community in Bihar is not entitled to be treated as members of the Scheduled Tribe…. It is the case of the petitioners that this is per se unconstitutional and illegal. It occasions breach of Articles 14 and 21 of Constitution. What is more, relying upon the same, proceedings have been initiated against the petitioners under the provisions of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Preventions of Atrocities Act), 1989…” The court SC ruled: “Lohra’ or ‘Loharas’ are thus different from ‘Lohar’ in Bihar, as ‘Lohars’, as noticed hereinbefore, are ranked with ‘Koiris’ and ‘Kurmis’, whereas ‘Lohra’ or ‘Loharas’ are merely sub-castes, a sect of Mundas in Chhotanagpur or sub-tribes of Asurs who are Scheduled Tribes.”

The court order also said: “While ‘Lohara’ is a member of Scheduled Tribe, ‘Lohar’ is not. Therefore, while we have quashed the notification, it must not be understood as meaning that ‘Lohara’, which is already included in the category of Scheduled Tribe, is to be affected by this judgment. We clarify that the quashing of the impugned notification will be qua ‘Lohar’ community and the Lohara will continue to get the benefit vouchsafed for them under the Presidential Order as amended by the Acts.” Ruling JD (U) and BJP leaders refrained from commenting on the matter, as it is a “judicial process”.

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