Centre’s announcement exceeds SC cap on the reservation
In a major move ahead of the Lok Sabha polls, the Centre on Monday cleared a 10 per cent job and education quota for the “economically weaker” section among upper castes who have demanding the same.
In view of the Supreme Court cap of a maximum 50 per cent reservation, the decision could face judicial challenges even if it is passed by Parliament. In the past, several State Governments had tried to increase the limit of reservation, but the decisions were struck down by the courts.
The Government hopes that the Bill will have a smooth passage in Parliament because no political parties could risk opposing and face political backlash. The Congress said it will support the Bill, but questioned the timing of the Government’s decision which it termed as an “election gimmick” to fool people.
“It’s political jumla, but we will support the Bill because our party has always backed the cause of economically backward groups irrespective of caste, creed and religion,” said Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala.
Among the major castes to benefit from the proposed law are Brahmins, Rajputs (Thakurs), Jats, Marathas, Bhumihars, several trading castes, Kapus and Kammas among other upper castes.
The poor among the other religions are also likely to benefit from it.
Influential castes like Marathas, Kapus and Jats have hit the streets in the last few years, seeking reservation benefits. Their protests at times have turned violent. Though Governments in States like Haryana, Rajasthan and Maharashtra have made laws, they are often struck down by the court on the ground of a Supreme Court judgment in the Indra Sawhney case that had fixed a ceiling of 50 per cent on reservation.
The announcement took the country by surprise prompting the Opposition parties to term it another poll gimmick by the Modi Government. Sources said a constitutional amendment Bill will be tabled in Parliament on Tuesday on the scheduled last day of the Winter Session. In a late evening decision to facilitate the amendment, the Rajya Sabha sitting has been extended till Wednesday while the Lok Sabha will be end up on Tuesday when the Amendment Bill will be taken up.
The constitutional amendment Bill seeks to insert a clause in Articles 15 and 16 of the Constitution, introducing reservation for economically weaker sections in educational institutions and Government jobs.
So far, the Constitution envisages quota for socially and educationally backward classes besides Scheduled Castes and Tribes, and has no mention of economically weaker people. At least two-thirds of the members in both the Houses need to support the Bill for its passage.
The Modi Government’s decision to bring a law to nullify a Supreme Court order, which critics said had diluted provisions in a law on atrocities against Dalits and tribes, was also used by some upper castes groups to campaign against the BJP in recent state polls.
The BJP had lost to the Congress in three States, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, where it was in power.
According to the Cabinet decision chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the proposed reservation will be over and above the existing 50 per cent reservation enjoyed by the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and the Other Backward Classes, taking the total reservation to 60 per cent.
The BJP hailed the move with several leaders describing it as historic and exercise in sync with government’s motto of “Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas” (with all, development for all). BJP ally and Dalit leader Ram Vilas Paswan also termed the decision by the government as “historic”.
A Union Minister said the Bill once passed will amend the Constitution accordingly to give reservation to the poor among the general castes and classes. “The Bill will provide a shelter for upper castes under the rubric of fundamental rights. The court’s rule of the maximum 50 per cent quota cannot fetter Parliament’s right to amend the Constitution,” he said.
In its famous Indra Sawhney judgement, the Supreme Court had set a cap of 50 per cent cap on quotas. Government sources said the proposed constitutional amendment will pave the way for the additional quota. “The reservation will be given to those economically weaker people who presently do not avail any benefits of reservation,” explained a Government official. The Supreme Court has also asserted that the Constitution makes no case for quota on economic ground and only talks of educational and social backwardness besides those for the SCs and STs.
The BJP believes that if Opposition parties, whose support is a must for its passage in the Rajya Sabha where the Government lacks numbers, vote against it, then they will risk losing support of an influential section of society.
A senior leader explained that the demand for providing quota to the poor from the general castes was made in the constituent assembly too. “For the first time, we (Govt) are now going to give constitutional recognition to the poor from the upper castes,” he said.
The Bill is likely to introduces criteria like an annual income below Rs 8 lakh and not owning more than five acres of agricultural land for those seeking quota benefits. They should also not own a flat of 1,000 sq ft or more, land of 100 yards in notified municipality area and 200 yards in the non-notified area, sources said.
The ruling BJP hopes that the Bill will help consolidate the general castes in its support as it begins campaign for the Lok Sabha elections scheduled in April-May.
Tuesday, 08 January 2019 | PNS | New Delhi–
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