‘Kulis’ Is The Plural For The Word ‘Kuli’: SC Upholds Scheduled Tribe Status Of Kuli Community In Odisha [Read Judgment]

‘Kulis’ Is The Plural For The Word ‘Kuli’: SC Upholds Scheduled Tribe Status Of Kuli Community In Odisha [Read Judgment]

“According to us, earlier the President and later Parliament while using the term “Kulis” only intended it to be used as plural for the word “Kuli”. Any other interpretation would mean that nobody would be able to take benefit of belonging to “Kulis” tribe.”

Normally, the letter ‘S’ when suffixed to a noun gives the plural of that noun. This letter ‘S’ gave rise to a litigation which reached till the Supreme Court which had to reiterate this basic vocabulary rule while holding that ‘Kulis is the plural for the word ‘Kuli’.

In a great relief for Kuli community in Odisha, the Supreme Court has held that the tribe mentioned as “Kulis” in the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Orders (Amendment) Act, 1976 in Schedule II in Part XII includes persons belonging to the “Kuli” community.

Upholding the Orissa High Court judgment, the bench comprising Justice Madan B. Lokur and Justice Deepak Gupta said: “According to us, earlier the President and later Parliament while using the term “Kulis” only intended it to be used as plural for the word “Kuli”. Any other interpretation would mean that nobody would be able to take benefit of belonging to “Kulis” tribe.”

In the presidential order, the term used is “Kulis”. The state’s stand was the members of the “Kuli” community cannot take benefit of being declared as Scheduled Tribes. Though the state did not challenge many earlier judgments of the High court, in this particular case, it contended before the apex court that the high court erred in holding that “Kulis” would include “Kuli”.

Referring to earlier rulings, the bench held that though the power of the court is very limited and the court cannot modify, alter, add to or subtract from the Presidential Order or the notification issued by Parliament, it has to ensure that the order is read in such a manner that no caste or tribe, which is intended by the President or by Parliament to be included, is actually excluded.

Advocate Shibashish Misra appeared for the state while Senior Advocate V. Giri represented the other side. The bench noted the following facts:



  • The Hindi version of this Order describes the tribe “Kuli” as a Scheduled Tribe.

  • No material to show that “Kuli” or “Kulis” are two different castes or tribes dealing with some different vocations.

  • 24th Report of the Commissioner for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes clearly indicated that the “Kuli” community has been deleted from the list of Scheduled Castes in Sambalpur as “Kulis” are already declared as Scheduled Tribe throughout the State.

  • In various documents, the terms “Kulis” and “Kuli” have been used interchangeably and though the caste or tribe has been described as “Kuli”, the members of the community, when dealt with together, have been described as “Kulis”.


The court finally held: “In the present case, earlier the President and later Parliament had included “Kulis” in the list of Scheduled Tribe. It has been found that there is no community by the name “Kulis” in the State of Odisha. The only community is “Kuli”. If we do not include “Kuli” in “Kulis”, the net result would be that we would be deleting a Tribe from the list of Scheduled Tribes. This also no Court or Tribunal is entitled to. We have to read the entries in the list in a manner which is consistent with the intention of the Parliament. According to us, earlier the President and later Parliament while using the term “Kulis” only intended it to be used as plural for the word “Kuli”. Any other interpretation would mean that nobody would be able to take benefit of belonging to “Kulis” tribe… Taking all the above facts into consideration, in the peculiar facts and circumstances of the case, we are of the view that the term “Kulis” in the English version will include members of the “Kuli” community.”

Read the Judgment Here