The Indian parliament has approved the bill for offering 10 per cent quota in education and employment to economically weaker sections in the general category. Though it is cited as a historic bill for reservation for economically weaker sections in Upper Caste, many feel that this is a political move to consolidate the vote banks.
Reservation is a part of corrective action which seeks to bring equality. In the beginning, there were provisions of reservation in government jobs and education only for certain socially and educationally backward castes like Schedule Caste (SC) and Schedule Tribes (ST). After a period of time, Other Backward Castes (OBC) was added to the list. Reservations were supposed to end 20 years after it was launched. Since they were expected to uplift these sections and bring them at parity with the common general population. But due to political compulsions, they were renewed.
The Constitution (One Hundred and Twenty-Fourth Amendment) Bill, 2019 seeks to provide for the advancement of 'economically weaker sections' of citizens. Article 15 of the Constitution prohibits discrimination against any citizen on the grounds of race, religion, caste, sex, or place of birth. However, the government may make special provisions for the advancement of socially and educationally backward classes, or for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. The Bill seeks to amend Article 15 to additionally permit the government to provide for the advancement of 'economically weaker sections'. Further, up to 10% of seats may be reserved for such sections for admission in educational institutions. Such reservation will not apply to minority educational institutions. Article 16 of the Constitution prohibits discrimination in employment in any government office. However, the government can allow reservation for any 'backward class of citizens', if they are not adequately represented in the services under the state.The Bill seeks to amend Article 16 to permit the government to reserve up to 10 per cent of all posts for the 'economically weaker sections' of citizens. The reservation of up to 10% for 'economically weaker sections' in educational institutions and public employment will be in addition to the existing reservation. The central government will notify the 'economically weaker sections' of citizens on the basis of family income and other indicators of economic disadvantage.
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.
If the bill is challenged through judicial process, there could be problems. If the Supreme Court disagrees (rejects the ideas of breaking the 50 per cent cap), then the Economically Weaker Section (EWS) quotas can be provided only by moving into the SC, ST and OBC quota section. If the Supreme Court indeed agrees to lift the 50 per cent cap, all States of India can extend the quantum of reservation and upper castes will stand to lose in service in the states.
The bill will help financially weak 'upper caste' Hindus and groups like Brahmins, Rajputs (Thakurs), Jats, Marathas, Bhumihars, and several traders belonging to the Kapu and Kamma communities. But if the EWS is treated on par with SC, SC and other large groups from general category then there will be huge population diving for just 10 per cent seats. This could lead to increase in the cut-off marks. Since the more candidates might pool inside as they come under the annual family income of Rs 8 lakh a year which is considered as economically weak section.
Though the bill also applies to people from all religions, the new public sector job quota and reservation in government colleges is expected to mainly benefit the upper sections of the Hindu caste system, particularly who are economically weaker. Upper castes may react positively to the move, but SC, ST and other OBC will be terribly upset.