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Centre to SC: Ready to Revisit Rs 8 Lakh Income Criteria for EWS

Earlier, SC had questioned the Centre over adopting the criteria of OBC creamy layer of Rs 8 lakh annual income.

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The Centre on Thursday, 25 November, informed the Supreme Court that it has taken a decision to revisit the Rs 8 lakh annual income limit used to determine eligibility for the EWS quota, and added that a fresh decision will be taken within a period of four weeks.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the Centre, assured a bench headed by Justice DY Chandrachud that the counselling for the NEET-based medical entrances won't take place until then. Mehta submitted that in the matter, "I have instruction to say that the government has decided to revisit the criteria... We will decide within four weeks."

The bench, also comprising Justices Surya Kant and Vikram Nath, during the hearing, observed that the EWS (Economically Weaker Section) reservation is a progressive and pragmatic reservation, and the only question is whether it should be horizontal or vertical.

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Senior advocate Arvind Datar, representing the petitioners, submitted that the question is whether Rs 70,000 income per month can be called EWS. On the aspect of limit issue, Justice Kant said that can be worked out.

The bench suggested that the Centre may apply the new criteria next year. Mehta submitted that he will need to take instructions on that. Justice Chandrachud pointed out that it is already the end of November.

The top court, in its order, said: "Centre has taken a decision to revisit the criteria determining the EWS in terms of provisions of explanation to Article 15 of the Constitution, inserted by the 103rd Amendment Act 2019."

The next date of hearing has been fixed for 6 January.

On 21 October, the Supreme Court had questioned the Centre over adopting the criteria of OBC creamy layer of Rs 8 lakh annual income for granting reservations under the EWS quota scheme, despite many who fit within this bracket not suffering from social and educational backwardness.

The top court told the Centre's counsel "You just cannot pull out Rs 8 lakh from thin air. You are making unequal equal by applying the Rs 8 lakh limit."

In an affidavit, the Centre had told the Supreme Court that its decision to fix Rs 8 lakh income limit for the OBC and economically weaker section (EWS) is not arbitrary in the NEET All India Quota, and it was finalised after considering diverse economic factors in different states.

The affidavit added that determination of Rs 8 lakh income limit is arrived at after taking into consideration the diverse economic factors in different states as also the diverse economic status between the rural and urban areas.

The Centre emphasised that there is a difference in purchasing power between the rural and urban areas in the sections which are intended to be under the EWS reservation -- namely students in higher educational institutions and for employment there is a constant migration from the rural to urban areas.

"Therefore, in view of the above, no separate criterion has been fixed for the rural and urban areas... The determination has to be made on broad probabilities and it is impossible to achieve perfection/mathematical precision", said the affidavit.

The Centre's response was to writ petitions challenging the 27 percent reservation for Other Backward Classes (OBC) and 10 percent reservation for EWS in all-India Quota seats for postgraduate medical courses.

As many as 15 percent seats in MBBS and 50 percent seats in MS and MD courses are filled through All India Quota (AIQ) from the candidates selected through NEET.

(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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