FAQ: Is Rs 8 Lakh Income Cap Final for Being in the EWS Category?
The Parliament has passed the 124th Constitution amendment Bill, extending the benefits of reservation in government jobs and admission in educational institutions to the economically weaker sections of society.
The quota for the poor among the general category of aspirants has been capped at 10 percent, over and above the reservation of 49.5 percent for scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and other backward classes.
While the media reports have given details of eligibility conditions, there may be some variation when the government notification is issued. Let us look at some of the things we already know and aspects which need more clarification.
Has the family income criterion of Rs. 8 lakh per annum been fixed and will it be applicable across all the states?
All that the Bill says is that, “Economically weaker sections shall be such as may be notified by the State from time to time on the basis of family income and other indicators of economic disadvantage.”
While moving the Bill, the minister of social justice and empowerment did not specify how “economically weaker sections” are going to be identified. It seems the figure of Rs. 8 lakh as family income being one of the criterion for identifying the beneficiaries came from the cabinet note on the same subject.
One gets the impression after going through the debate in Parliament that states may have the option of having their own income ceiling limit. It is quite likely that Bihar’s income ceiling limit may be quite different from that in Maharashtra.
It is worth recalling that children of persons having gross annual income of Rs. 8 lakh or above for a period of three years fall within the category of creamy layer among other backward classes. The members of creamy layer are denied the benefits of constitutionally-mandated reservation in jobs and educational institutions earmarked for the OBCs. The revised income ceiling came into effect on 1 September 2017.
We still do not know how will the list of all the beneficiaries, having income of less than Rs. 8 lakh per annum, be identified. Will the salary income form the core while identifying the beneficiaries? Will income from agriculture be clubbed with income from other sources? The government notification may have some answer.
Will the unaided educational institutions in the private sector be covered too?
The Bill has categorical yes for an answer. It says that all but minority institutions will be covered once the act comes into effect. What it essentially means that other than minority institutions, all educational institutions will have to offer 59.5 percent seats to reserved categories of students. It is not clear whether government will offer subsidy to unaided private sector institutions. Most likely that is going to be the case.
Will there be any increase in seats in educational institutions?
According to reports, IITs, IIMs, central and state universities and private institutions are going to augment student intake by 10 percent. That means an additional capacity creation of at least 10 seats in educational institutions. It is not clear yet whether the government is going to bear the burden, at least a part of it, of expansion on such a scale. According to an Economic Times report, “in total, there are 903 universities, 39,050 colleges and 10,011 standalone institutions as per an All-India Survey on Higher Education, 2017-18. The survey has estimated that total enrollment in higher education is about 36 million, with Scheduled Castes constituting 14.4 percent, Scheduled Tribes 5.2 percent, 35 percent Other Backward Classes, 5 percent Muslims and 2.2 percent other minority communities.”
Will the bill clear judicial hurdle?
The opinions are divided. The government spokespersons are of the view that by amending the Constitution, the legislation is going to pass the muster. Earlier moves failed to clear the judicial scrutiny test because they were taken without amending the Constitution, they say.
They also argue that since the Constitution approves affirmative action for socially and educationally backward classes alone, having the same for economically weaker sections is a new addition and therefore liable to be legally challenged.
How did the government manage to bring almost all political parties on board?
Since most political parties have been promising quota for economically weaker sections of society, they could ill-afford to publicly denounce the move. However, there is a possibility of an acrimonious debate once the fine print is out. Since we are in the crucial election year, political parties have turned cautious and are likely to take position only after getting the feedback from the ground.