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What Is the Criteria for 10% Quota? No Clarity in Govt Documents 

The criteria for the 10 percent reservation for economically weak in general category is everywhere, yet nowhere.

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India
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One of the many contentious issues that cropped up in the wake of introducing the 10 percent quota for general category was the criteria to define the ‘economically weak’.

For instance, many experts felt that the cap of annual family income of Rs 8 lakh was too high for a country like India, and will effectively bring the ‘not-so-poor’ into the reservation fold.

But, one aspect that has so far went largely overlooked is that no official document categorically mentions the criteria for the reservation, even as it has been widely reported.

Perplexed? Let’s break this down.

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On Monday, 7 January, the day the Union Cabinet approved the 10 percent quota, news agency ANI quoted Union Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment Thawarchand Gehlot as saying that the reservation is meant for those whose annual family income is less than Rs 8 lakh and who own less than 5 acres of agricultural land.

Over the next 24 hours, as the development became the prime-time news, media outlets including news agencies reported the following eligibility criteria to avail the reservation:

  • Family income should be less than Rs 8 lakh per annum
  • Farm land should be less than that of 5 acres
  • Residential house should be less than 1,000 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

But, Where Is the Criteria?

Quite intriguingly though, the above mentioned criteria is everywhere, yet nowhere. The copy of the Constitution Amendment Bill – now an act after the President’s nod –available on Lok Sabha’s website does not explicitly mention any kind of criteria.

The closest the Bill comes to spelling out the criteria is where it says “...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 introducing the Bill in the Lok Sabha, Social Justice and Empowerment Minister Gehlot echoes the above mentioned document and does not talk about any specific criteria either.

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But that’s not all. On Monday, 14 January, the ministry issued a notification stating that the Constitution (One Hundred and Third Amendment) Act, 2019, has come into effect. This notification too, does not touch upon the criteria part.

A report by The Indian Express on this notification quotes a ministry official as saying, “An office memorandum, so as to operationalise the law, will be issued later this week. The income criteria will be defined in that.”

The official also says that states will be free to decide their own percentage of EWS reservation and income criteria provided it doesn’t exceed the upper limit set by the Centre.

The report, if true, puts more emphasis on the question that what after all is “the upper limit set by the Centre”.

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As far as the states are concerned, on 14 January, Gujarat became the first one to announce that it would implement the 10 percent quota.

But even in this case, there is no clarity on the criteria. A Times of India report on this development says that a government circular detailing income criteria of beneficiaries and other parameters of implementation of the quota is yet to be issued.

The confusion over the criteria seems to be present even at official levels. In order to seek clarity, The Quint reached out to Sitanshu Kar, Principal DG of Press Information Bureau (PIB). When asked what might be the source of the criteria floating around the media he said, “I don’t know. I saw it in the newspapers”.

The response, kind of, sums it all up.

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