Topic: 10% reservation for economically weaker section in general category
Topic in Syllabus: GS Paper 2: Indian Polity
Lok Sabha recently passed the Constitution (124th Amendment) Bill 2019 to provide 10 per cent reservation in jobs and educational institutions to economically backward section in the general category.
More about Constitution (124th Amendment) Bill, 2019:
- The Bill will also cover those from the Muslim, Sikh, Christian, Buddhist and other minority communities.
- The quota will be over and above the existing 50% reservation to Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes (OBC).
- The specific details of the Bill were not available as there was no official word from the government after the Cabinet meeting.
- The reservation is for those castes who presently do not avail reservation in any category.
- The bill seeks to amend Articles 15 and 16 of the Constitution to give reservation to the economically backward sectionsamong the general/ unreserved category over and above the 49.5% quota in place for SC, ST and OBCs.
- It seeks 10% reservation for the economically weaker sections of society in higher educational institutes, private institutions whether aided or unaided by the State other than the minority educational institutions referred to in Article 30.
Bill seeks to insert a separate clause in article 16 after clause (5) which reads as:
“Nothing in this article shall prevent the State from making any provision for the reservation of appointments or posts in favour of any economically weaker sections of citizens other than the classes mentioned in clause (4), in addition to the existing reservation and subject to a maximum of 10% of the posts in each category”
Constitutional provisions of the Act:
- The Act amends Articles 15 and 16 of the Constitution, by adding a clause which allows states to make “special provision for the advancement of any EWS of citizens”.
- These “special provisions” would relate to “their admission to educational institutions, including private educational institutions, whether aided or unaided by the state, other than the minority educational institutions”.
- It also said the reservation would be “in addition to the existing reservations and subject to a maximum of 10 per cent of the total seats in each category”.
- According to the objects of the bill, “The directive principles of state policy contained in Article 46 of the Constitution enjoins that the State shall promote with special care the educational and economic interests of the weaker sections of the people, and, in particular, of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes, and shall protect them from social injustice and all forms of exploitation.”
Is this idea of reservation for ‘poor forwards’ new?
- No, it has been explored earlier.
- In 2008, the government of Chief Minister V S Achuthanandan in Kerala decided to reserve 10% seats in graduation and PG courses in government colleges and 7.5% seats in universities for the economically backward among the forwards. An appeal is pending in the Supreme Court.
- In 2011, Mayawati, then Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, wrote to the central government asking for reservation for upper-caste poor.
- In 2008 and 2015, the Rajasthan Assembly passed Bills to provide a 14% quota to the economically backward classes (EBCs) among the forward castes.
Who qualifies for the proposed quota?
The proposed amendment Bill will define Economically Weaker Section (EWS) as one having:
- Annual household income below Rs 8 lakh
- Agriculture land below 5 acres
- Residential house below 1000 sqft
- Residential plot below 100 yards in notified municipality
- Residential plot below 200 yards in non-notified municipality area.
- At present, the economically weaker sections of citizens have largely remained excluded from attending higher educational institutions and public employment on account of their financial incapacity.
- The decision to bring in the 10% t economic criteria reservation is progressive in nature and will address the issues of educational and income inequality in India.
- Critics opposing reservation “by birth” have always argued that the criteria for reservation should be economic because there are many people or class other than backward classes who are living under deplorable, poverty stricken conditions.
- The proposed quota and the consequent constitutional amendment would give a constitutional recognition to the poor from the upper castes.
- It will unintentionally remove the stigma of reservation. Reservation has historically been associated with caste and generally the upper caste look down upon those who come through reservation.
- There will be more seats in higher education institutions like IITs, IIMs, NITs etc. under the new category from the next academic session.
- The law updates the reservation status with the changing scenario where privileges are also based on economic standards.
- Identity politics of religion and caste is not used in reservation which had been the case till now as the new law of 10 per cent quota in government jobs and education for economically weaker sections is irrespective of religion and caste.
Previous Supreme Court judgments:
- In the landmark verdict of Supreme Court in the Mandal case, the Supreme Court had held that the proposal to provide 10 per cent Reservation for Other economically backward sections of the people who are not covered by any of the existing schemes of Reservation as constitutionally invalid.
- The Supreme Court had held that mere economic backwardness or mere educational backwardness which is not the result of social backwardness cannot be the criterion of backwardness in Article 16 (4).
- The Supreme Court has even ruled in the Indra Sawhney case that the share of jobs or educational or legislative seats reserved for different communities cannot together exceed 50 per cent.
- So the present order of the government to provide reservations violates some of the observations made by the Supreme Court in its previous judgments.
KALELKAR & MANDAL commission reports:
- The first Backward Classes Commission was appointed under Article 340(1) in 1953 under the Chairmanship of Kaka Saheb Kalelkar to determine criteria to identify people as socially and educationally Backward Classes, and to recommend steps to ameliorate their condition.
- In its report, the Commission interpreted the term “socially and educationally backward classes as relating primarily to social hierarchy based on caste”.
- The second Backward Classes Commission was appointed in 1978 under B P Mandal to review the state of the Backward Classes.
- The Commission submitted its report in 1980, but it was put in cold storage until the V P Singh government pulled it out in 1990.
Reservation in India:
- It’s the duty of the government to provide equality of status and opportunity in India.
- Reservation is one of the tools against social oppression and injustice against certain classes. Otherwise known as affirmative action, reservation helps in uplifting backward classes.
- However, reservation is just one of the methods for social upliftment. There are many other methods like providing scholarships, funds, coachings, and other welfare schemes.
- The way reservation is implemented and executed in India is largely governed by vote-bank politics.
- Indian Constitution allowed reservation only for socially and educationally backward classes. However, in India, it became caste-based reservation instead of class-based reservation.
- Initially, the reservation was intended only for SC/ST communities – that too for a period of 10 years (1951-1961). However, it got extended ever since. After the implementation of Mandal Commission report in 1990, the scope of the reservation was widened to include Other Backward Communities (OBCs).
- The benefits of the reservation were successively enjoyed only by a few communities (or families), excluding the truly deserving ones. Even 70 years after independence, the demand for reservation has only increased.
- Now, with the introduction of economic criteria for reservation, in addition to the caste-criteria which already existed, things have become more complicated.
Indra Sawhney case
- In the famous Mandal case (Indra Sawhney v. Union of India 1992), the scope and extent of Article 16(4), which provides for reservation of jobs in favour of backward classes, has been examined thoroughly by the Supreme Court.
- The proposed law would face roadblocks if challenged in the Supreme Court.
- A nine-judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court in the Indira Sawhney case of 1992 specifically answered the question “whether backward classes can be identified only and exclusively with reference to the economic criterion.”
- The constitution bench had categorically ruled that a backward class cannot be determined only and exclusively with reference to economic criterion.
- The bench had held that economic criterion may be a consideration or basis along with, and in addition to, social backwardness, but it can never be the sole criterion.
- The bench in its judgment declared 50 per cent quota as the rule unless extraordinary situations “inherent in the great diversity of this country and the people” happen. Even then, the court stated that extreme caution is to be exercised and a special case should be made out.
- The Bill was not circulated ahead of being introduced, it was not examined by a committee, there was hardly any time between its introduction and final discussion.
- It will be difficult to increase the number of seats by a fourth for many institutions with hostel facilities. Even many government institutes like the new Indian Institute of Managements are operating on rented buildings due to lack of adequate infrastructure. It takes at least nine months to set up new buildings. Further additional teaching and associate stuff will have to be arranged.
- Various private institutions have already expressed concerns that admission of poor quality students under the quota may impact the system of education.
- Banking on the Supreme Court rulings on reservations in the past, private aided- and non-aided higher education institutions intend to weigh the legality of the Centre’s move to push for a 10 per cent quota for the economically weaker among the general category.
- The PIL, moved by Youth for Equality, has sought quashing of the Bill arguing that economic criteria cannot be sole basis for reservation. Further, it held that the new Bill also violates basic feature of the Constitution as reservation on economic grounds cannot be limited to the general category.
- The income criterion to be used is an annual household income of Rs 8 lakh. Data from the I-T department as well as reports from the NSSO show that at least 95% of Indian families will fall within this limit.
- An annual household income of Rs 8 lakh would mean a per person income of a little over Rs 13,000 per month assuming a family of five
- The top-most income slice for which the NSSO survey of 2011-12 (the latest) gives data is of over Rs 2,625 per person per month in rural areas and Rs 6,015 in urban areas, both well under this mark. Yet this top slice has a mere 5% of the households in it.
- Further, for 2016-17, just under 23 million individuals declared incomes of over Rs 4 lakh. Even assuming two such individuals in each family, that would mean about 1 crore families at best would be over the Rs 8 lakh cut-off. That translates to roughly 4% of Indians.
- That translates to Rs 6.25 lakh for a family of five. Thus, a household that gets Rs 8 lakh a year would be significantly above the national average, certainly not poor.
- The land-holding criterion is just as liberal. The agricultural census for 2015-16 revealed that 86.2% of all land- holdings in India were under 2 hectares in size, or just under 5 acres. So, once again the bulk of the population qualifies for the new quota under this.
- A third criterion is that the size of the house should not be over 1,000 sq.ft. The NSSO report on housing conditions in 2012 shows that even the richest 20% of the population had houses with an average floor area of 45.99 sq.m, which is almost exactly 500 sq.ft.
- That is barely half the ceiling being imposed. Here, too, at least 80%, and more likely well over 90%, would be eligible.
The Parliament of India has recently passed the Constitution (One Hundred and Twenty-Fourth Amendment) Bill, 2019 in order to provide reservation in public employment and higher education for economically weaker sections to the general category candidates. Will it take economically weaker section To Equality? Critically evaluate.