Yogesh Pratap Singh & Afroz Alam
Taking advantage of its huge numbers in both Houses of Parliament, the ruling BJP is planning to revisit the existing scheme of OBC reservation through multiple measures.
- First, the Other Backward Classes Bill will be reintroduced to give constitutional status to the National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC) under Article 340 in the forthcoming winter session.
- Second, the government plans to examine the "extent of inequitable distribution of benefits of reservation among castes and communities included in the broad category of OBCs" in the Central List.
- Third, the government is emphasising on sub-categorisation within OBCs for a "more equitable distribution of reservation benefits among OBCs", as claimed.
- Fourth, the government has enhanced the creamy layer ceiling from 6 lakh to 8 lakh.
- Finally, the Union Cabinet has resolved to identify posts in public sector undertakings and financial institutions that will be marked in the creamy layer category to exclude them from the 27 per cent OBC reservation.
In all probability, these measures are not taking place in isolation but have a dubious purpose. First, the party aims to change the electoral dynamics of lower castes in its favour by manipulating its policy orientation. Second, the proposed measures are adopted to gradually overhaul the reservation system. Prudently or helplessly, the opposition parties are not able to voice substantive questions on these measures due to a decline in their concern for the idea of social justice.
Be that as it may, in a multiple undulating society like ours, accomplishing the objective of social justice as enshrined in the Constitution is a difficult political task. The Constitution makes the State the trustee to preserve, protect, defend and help in the upliftment of the backward classes. The government considering the recommendations of the Mandal Commission apropos the benefits to be extended to the socially and educationally backward classes as discoursed, acknowledged that at the outset, certain weightage must be given to such classes (castes) in the services of the Union and their public undertakings. The state Act was confronted before the nine-judge Bench in the Indra Sawhney Case. Several shades of opinion were presented in the court, ranging from one extreme to the other. The apex court with some significant restrictions upheld the 27% reservation to the backward classes. One such restriction was the elimination of the creamy layer from the Backward Class. The object was to ensure that the benefit of reservation must reach the lower strata or needy people. The increased creamy layer ceiling from 6 lakh to 8 lakh is against this spirit. Instead of creating a bigger pool of people eligible for government jobs and seats in educational institutions, as claimed, it would help only the cream. The rising gap between the poor and middle class OBCs will further deepen and the benefit will continue to be appropriated by the latter class.
Of course, there is a strong need to audit the present system of reservation on the line of why it did not work meaningfully to address the concerns of social justice. We also need to assess the aggregate outcome in terms of socio-educational progression of the OBCs and accordingly devise more strong measures like their sub-categorisation to overcome the gaps. But before doing all these, the government should first release the Economic Caste Census 2011 for a judicious preparation to address the OBC questions. Second, a provision of reservation for OBC women should also be thought of to ensure gender justice.
Concept of class
The very concept of a class denotes a number of persons having certain common traits which distinguish them from the others. In a backward class, under Article 16(4) or 15(4), if the connecting link is the social backwardness, it should broadly be the same in a given class. If some of the members are far too advanced socially which in the context, necessarily means economically and educationally, the connecting thread between them and the remaining class shatters. They would be misfits in the class. After excluding them alone, would the class be a compact class. In fact, such exclusion benefits the truly backward. The difficulty, however, arises -- how and where to draw the line? For, while drawing the line, it should be ensured that it does not result in taking away with one hand what is given by the other. The basis of exclusion should not merely be economic, unless, of course, the economic advancement is so high that it necessarily means social advancement.
Let the incentive of reservation percolate down to that group/family among the OBCs that could not get the benefit of reservation for any reason. Similarly, we also need to revisit the religious sanctity of the SC and ST categories and incorporate the similarly placed caste groups present in the Christian and Muslim communities in these categories so as to equalise the benefit of the aggregate outcomes of reservation.
To sum up, in the absence of a correct and comprehensive policy, the political executive, owing to the deterioration of the electoral process will continue to create layers of backward classes, religions and racial groups where even 90% quota will not be adequate. The ruling BJP should not turn the issue of OBC reservation problematic in the want of creating a 'neo-Mandal' mobilisation to its favour. Rather, it should come forward with a policy plan with a strong conviction of reducing the marginality of socially oppressed groups, be it public or private.
Yogesh Pratap Singh is Deputy Regitrar, Supreme Court, and Afroz Alam is Associate Professor of Political Science, Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Hyderabad
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