In a major move ahead of the Lok Sabha polls, the Union Cabinet on Monday cleared a 10% reservation in jobs and educational institutions for “economically weaker” upper castes, meeting a key demand of upper castes, a staunch BJP support base which has shown signs of a drift from the party.
The news of the government announcing 10% reservation for the economically backward general category citizens in education and employment is a welcome move. Although, this means that many general category students will now be left with only 40% seats to compete on, owing to their relatively well-off economic status, nevertheless students whose parents earn less than 8 Lakh per annum, or holding less than 5 acres of land (besides other such provisions to be laid out in detail in the bill), are eligible to avail this reservation facility.
Now let us understand the consequences of the proposal critically:
1. General category students who are not poor will be left with 40% seats to compete on instead of the 50% seats.
2. Around 30.8% population of India belongs to the general category. Since 10% reservation is provided, roughly 1 in every 3 student from general category will be covered under this process.
3. Henceforth, OBC and SC/ST students will be eligible to compete for only 90% of all seats (including their exclusive reservation), instead of 100% seats before.
4. What is the proportion of economically backward people in the general category? The criterion is ofcourse as laid out by the government viz. below 8 Lakh per annum etc. Assuming that only 50% people from general category earn less than 8 Lakh per annum (merely a speculation as I don’t have accurate figures, and the figure is hugely subjective in the first place), it can be assumed that around 15.4% (50% of roughly 30.8%) of the Indian population is eligible for this economically backward reservation.
5. Therefore, merely these 15.4% individuals will have to compete for 10% seats, which is a great selection ratio.
Now, the general category also includes Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, Parsis. The GC population of Hindus is merely 26%, but overall GC population of all religions combined is 30.8%. Sikhs, Jains and Christians from General Category are relatively well off, hence Hindus and Muslims will be the bulk beneficiaries of this provision. Its critical to understand that Hindus must not suffer any bureaucratic hurdle while acquiring the Economically Backward Certificate (EBC), and a fair procedure is adopted so that any particular caste/religion does not reap a disproportionate benefit of this provision.
Now having laid down the figures, I shall opine on the relevance and possibility of this legislation.
1. Constitutional Amendment via 2/3rd majority + 50% or members present and voting is required in both houses of the parliament. NDA currently has 307/545 seats in LS. To achieve 360 votes in LS, it shall require the support of other parties, or it must convince few parties to abstain from voting in order to decrease the requisite 360 votes. Similarly, this procedure has to be completed in the RS as well.
2. There are good enough reasons that the opposition might block the bill and hence with it this reservation provision.
3. The Supreme Court has the power of judicial review via which it can term any piece of legislation, order, bye-law, custom etc as unconstitutional if it violates the ‘basic feature’ doctrine of the constitution. The SC has emphasized that a reservation ceiling of 50% comprises the basic feature of the constitution, and hence the SC can render this legislation as null and void. Even if the government puts the legislation in the 9th schedule of the constitution, SC can review it if it violates the fundamental rights, particularly Article 14, 15, 19 and 21.
5. Since the government is not infringing on the constitutional rights of SC/ST’s and OBC’s, will the directive principles of state policy already envision ‘economic equality’ as a veritable goal of Indian Republic, will the SC change its interpretation of the basic structure doctrine with regards to reservation ceiling?
These are some of the questions that can only be answered after much scrutiny.
Personally, my opinion on reservations is repugnant. Being a supporter of meritocracy in a democracy (only in secular life), I abhor all reservations except for a meagre amount for the physically disabled individuals (because it helps to mitigate the social burden and health burden created if these individuals are utterly dependent on the state). I don’t support ‘meritocracy’ in the religious sphere (such as forcible appointment of SC priests by displacing the “scripturally ordained” Brahmin priests, or by appointing female priests in temples where they are prohibited). However, if a political system that is not democratic, I support intra-group meritocracy and competition, while rejecting inter-group competition. The four Varnas aren’t supposed or designed to compete with each other, but compete within themselves for the posts of best scholars, or warriors or businessmen or servicemen and agriculturists etc.
However, since caste-based reservation has become endemic to India, its pertinent that GC also reaps some benefits in a polity that is designed unilaterally to support certain sections of society. Unlike, caste-based reservations, economic reservations aren’t designed to cut across generations and are an indicator of real-time economic backwardness. This might just be the start of the demand for introducing a economic based criteria for reservations as far as SC/ST are concerned.
Reservations can be wholesomely eradicated only by:
1. Either a revolution and overthrow of the constitution.
2. In a phased manner, by changing the social criteria to economic criteria, and in future abdicate it completely.
Today, the best bet is to follow the second method. On an ideological level, I do not support reservations, but as per the circumstances, it’s evident that this 10% reservation for General Category must be welcomed.