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Upper Caste Quota: The End, The Means and The Hurdles

Here is everything that you need to know about the upper caste quota approved by the Cabinet.

Updated
Explainers
4 min read
The Union Cabinet on Monday, 7 January, approved a 10 percent reservation for economically weaker sections among the upper castes.
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Snapshot

The Union Cabinet on Monday, 7 January, approved a 10 percent reservation for economically backward upper castes in government jobs and education.

As the decision came, just a few weeks ahead of the general elections, the intent and motive of the proposed move came under intense scrutiny. The BJP and its allies projected the decision as a welcome one, while those in the opposition were more skeptical, some going to the length of terming it as yet another jumla.

The need and viability of the move – both in terms of legality and propriety – also came under the scanner.

Here is all you need to know about the decision, explained in three cards.

Upper Caste Quota: The End, The Means and The Hurdles

  1. 1. The Who, What And How

    The government has put forth a set of eligibility criteria for those who intend to be the beneficiaries of the new quota scheme. The economic backwardness will be determined by their family income, agricultural land, residential house and residential plot.

    Eligibility Criteria:

    • Family income should be less than 8 lakh per annum.
    • Farm land should be less than that of 5 acres.
    • Residential house should be less than 1000 sq ft.
    • Residential plot should be below 100 yards in a notified municipality.
    • In case of a non-notified municipality area, the residential plot should be below 200 yards.

    The bill for reserving 10 percent seats for economically backward section of the upper caste is likely to be tabled in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday, 8 January.

    Now, for the decision to be implemented on ground, it will need an amendment of Articles 15 (prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth) and 16 (equality of opportunity in matters of public employment) of the Constitution.

    Both these articles, at present, do not provide for economic backwardness.

    A constitutional amendment, in turn, requires the following steps to be fulfilled:

    • Two-thirds majority of members present and voting in the Lok Sabha.
    • Two-thirds majority of members present and voting in the Rajya Sabha.
    • Ratification of legislatures of not less than half the states.

    Further, the amendment may be challenged in the courts on the grounds that it violates the basic structure of the Constitution.

    Expand
  2. 2. Looking Back: History and Hurdles

    Apart from the constitutional amendment mentioned earlier required to accommodate financial status as a criteria for reservation, the Cabinet’s decision will also have to overcome the hurdle of the Supreme Court’s cap on reservation at 50 percent.

    “Since this Court has consistently held that the reservation under Articles 15(4) and 16(4) should not exceed 50% and the States and the Union have by and large accepted this as correct it should be held as constitutional prohibition and any reservation beyond 50% would liable to be struck down.”
    Supreme Court in Indra Sawhney Etc vs Union of India and Others (1992) case

    In 1992, when the PV Narsimha Rao government attempted to introduce a 10 percent reservation for economically backward classes, SC had struck it down by citing this.

    The government is hoping that its decision will go through as the SC’s cap is applicable only on reservation for backward classes and will not come in the way for a provision for economically weaker sections, once the constitutional amendment in Articles 15 and 16 are put in place.

    Kalelkar and Mandal Commisions

    The debate and deliberation on reservation started soon after the independence when the first Backward Classes Commission was appointed under Article 340(1) in 1953 under the Chairmanship of Kaka Saheb Kalelkar.

    The Commission submitted its report in 1955, listing as many as 2,399 castes as socially and educationally backward. The then government, however, did not accept the report as it was not satisfied with the commission’s approach in determining the criteria for identifying backward classes under Article 15(4).

    Then in 1979, the Janata Party government constituted the Second Backward Classes Commission – popularly known as the Mandal Commission after its chairman, the Bihar MP Bindheshwar Mandal. The Commission submitted its report in 1980, but it was not before 1989, that the VP Singh government decided to implement it.

    While India already had reservation for SCs and STs in place at that time, the Mandal Commission recommended a 27.5 percent reservation for the Other Backward Classes (OBCs). The Indra Sawhney case ensued after VP Singh’s government decided to implement the Mandal Commission report.

    The court partially accepted the government’s new policy, allowing for 27% reservation for the OBCs, but said that socially and economically advanced individuals (creamy layer) among them will not be covered.
    Expand
  3. 3. Why the Government Took This Decision Now

    The government’s decision is widely being seen as an attempt to win back the general category voters – a core base of the ruling BJP – who have shown signs of drifting away in the recent times.

    Data from the Election Commission shows that in the three states combined –Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh – that the BJP lost recently, the party had won 135 seats of the general category, as opposed to 249 seats, in the 2013 assembly elections.

    The BJP’s backing for reservation for Dalits in promotions, and its bringing a Bill to overturn the Supreme Court’s order on Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, which made some offences under the Act bailable, is believed to have given birth to some resentment among the BJP’s core voter base.

    In a panel discussion on Bloomberg Quint, political commentator Amitabh Tiwary said that the BJP is looking to woo the Hindi heartland, which has around 30 percent of general category voters.

    The move is also being seen as a way to assuage castes like Marathas, Patidars, Jats and Kapus, who have been raising demands for reservation over the last few years.

    These castes have similar status, both economically and socially. Even as they do not fall under the OBC category, they lag behind other forward castes in terms of important indicators like land holding and education.

    Going into the general election, the BJP is aiming at a win-win situation by trying to woo its core voter base without alienating the backward castes, as the 10 percent reservation will be implemented over and above the existing quotas.

    (At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

    Expand

The Who, What And How

The government has put forth a set of eligibility criteria for those who intend to be the beneficiaries of the new quota scheme. The economic backwardness will be determined by their family income, agricultural land, residential house and residential plot.

Eligibility Criteria:

  • Family income should be less than 8 lakh per annum.
  • Farm land should be less than that of 5 acres.
  • Residential house should be less than 1000 sq ft.
  • Residential plot should be below 100 yards in a notified municipality.
  • In case of a non-notified municipality area, the residential plot should be below 200 yards.

The bill for reserving 10 percent seats for economically backward section of the upper caste is likely to be tabled in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday, 8 January.

Now, for the decision to be implemented on ground, it will need an amendment of Articles 15 (prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth) and 16 (equality of opportunity in matters of public employment) of the Constitution.

Both these articles, at present, do not provide for economic backwardness.

A constitutional amendment, in turn, requires the following steps to be fulfilled:

  • Two-thirds majority of members present and voting in the Lok Sabha.
  • Two-thirds majority of members present and voting in the Rajya Sabha.
  • Ratification of legislatures of not less than half the states.

Further, the amendment may be challenged in the courts on the grounds that it violates the basic structure of the Constitution.

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Looking Back: History and Hurdles

Apart from the constitutional amendment mentioned earlier required to accommodate financial status as a criteria for reservation, the Cabinet’s decision will also have to overcome the hurdle of the Supreme Court’s cap on reservation at 50 percent.

“Since this Court has consistently held that the reservation under Articles 15(4) and 16(4) should not exceed 50% and the States and the Union have by and large accepted this as correct it should be held as constitutional prohibition and any reservation beyond 50% would liable to be struck down.”
Supreme Court in Indra Sawhney Etc vs Union of India and Others (1992) case

In 1992, when the PV Narsimha Rao government attempted to introduce a 10 percent reservation for economically backward classes, SC had struck it down by citing this.

The government is hoping that its decision will go through as the SC’s cap is applicable only on reservation for backward classes and will not come in the way for a provision for economically weaker sections, once the constitutional amendment in Articles 15 and 16 are put in place.

Kalelkar and Mandal Commisions

The debate and deliberation on reservation started soon after the independence when the first Backward Classes Commission was appointed under Article 340(1) in 1953 under the Chairmanship of Kaka Saheb Kalelkar.

The Commission submitted its report in 1955, listing as many as 2,399 castes as socially and educationally backward. The then government, however, did not accept the report as it was not satisfied with the commission’s approach in determining the criteria for identifying backward classes under Article 15(4).

Then in 1979, the Janata Party government constituted the Second Backward Classes Commission – popularly known as the Mandal Commission after its chairman, the Bihar MP Bindheshwar Mandal. The Commission submitted its report in 1980, but it was not before 1989, that the VP Singh government decided to implement it.

While India already had reservation for SCs and STs in place at that time, the Mandal Commission recommended a 27.5 percent reservation for the Other Backward Classes (OBCs). The Indra Sawhney case ensued after VP Singh’s government decided to implement the Mandal Commission report.

The court partially accepted the government’s new policy, allowing for 27% reservation for the OBCs, but said that socially and economically advanced individuals (creamy layer) among them will not be covered.

Why the Government Took This Decision Now

The government’s decision is widely being seen as an attempt to win back the general category voters – a core base of the ruling BJP – who have shown signs of drifting away in the recent times.

Data from the Election Commission shows that in the three states combined –Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh – that the BJP lost recently, the party had won 135 seats of the general category, as opposed to 249 seats, in the 2013 assembly elections.

The BJP’s backing for reservation for Dalits in promotions, and its bringing a Bill to overturn the Supreme Court’s order on Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, which made some offences under the Act bailable, is believed to have given birth to some resentment among the BJP’s core voter base.

In a panel discussion on Bloomberg Quint, political commentator Amitabh Tiwary said that the BJP is looking to woo the Hindi heartland, which has around 30 percent of general category voters.

The move is also being seen as a way to assuage castes like Marathas, Patidars, Jats and Kapus, who have been raising demands for reservation over the last few years.

These castes have similar status, both economically and socially. Even as they do not fall under the OBC category, they lag behind other forward castes in terms of important indicators like land holding and education.

Going into the general election, the BJP is aiming at a win-win situation by trying to woo its core voter base without alienating the backward castes, as the 10 percent reservation will be implemented over and above the existing quotas.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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