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Will Modi's quota meet same fate as Narasimha Rao's?

By The Rediff News Bureau
Last updated on: January 08, 2019 13:51 IST
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In a major move ahead of the Lok Sabha polls, the Narendra Modi government on Monday cleared 10 per cent quota in government jobs and education for "economically weaker" sections in general category.

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, and will take the total reservation to 60 per cent.

The Constitution, which has no mention of "economically weaker" people, will require an amendment to provide quota for them and at least two-thirds of the members in both the Houses will need to support the bill for it become a law.

The bill seeks to amend Articles 15 and 16 of the Constitution, introducing a clause for reservation for economically weaker sections in educational institutions and government jobs.

Photograph: Manvender Vashist/PTI Photo

Who all are eligible for the quota?

Any economically weaker from Brahmins, Rajputs (Thakurs), Jats, Marathas, Bhumihars, several trading castes, Kapus and Kammas among other upper castes with an annual income below Rs 8 lakh and not owning more than five acres of agricultural land will get the benefits of the reservation.

The person should also not own a flat of 1000 sq ft or more, land of 100 yards in notified municipality area and 200 yards in non-notified area, sources said.

According to government sources, the poor among the other religions will also benefit from the quota.


Will it pass in Parliament?

The ruling National Democratic Alliance has required numbers in Lok Sabha to pass the bill to provide reservation for upper castes.

However, the BJP will need support from the opposition benches in Rajya Sabha.

Though, the Congress and other opposition parties have dubbed the move as an "election gimmick”, reflecting its political significance, they have extended its support.

So, the bill should pass the Parliament test.

Is it legally tenable?

So far, reservation under the Constitution is only given on the basis of social and educational backwardness, not economic backwardness.

The erstwhile PV Narasimha Rao government proposed a 10 per cent reservation based on economic criteria in 1991. But it was set aside by the apex court.

The leading case on the issue is a nine-judge bench judgment of the Supreme Court in 1992, called the Indira Sawhney and others vs Union of India case.

The Sawhney judgment caps reservation at 50%, saying, "Reservation being extreme form of protective measure or affirmative action it should be confined to minority of seats. Even though the Constitution does not lay down any specific bar but the constitutional philosophy being against proportional equality the principle of balancing equality ordains reservation, of any manner, not to exceed 50%".

The judgment also shuns the idea of reservation on the basis of economic criteria.

In the past, the SC and several high courts have used the 1992 judgments to strike down reservations that breached the 50% limit, such as in the Maratha and Patidar quota cases.

The government will be required to establish the decision does not affect the "basic structure" of the Constitution and that Parliament is within its rights to amend it to introduce an economic criteria for granting reservation.

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