Upper caste reservation bill to be presented at 2 PM

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Thawar Chand Gehlot

The government will present a new bill to amend the constitution and introduce a new 10% quota for ‘forward communities’ at 2 PM today.

The bill will be presented by minister of social justice and empowerment Thawar Chand Gehlot.

The bill will add a new criteria for providing reservation — economic backwardness — to the existing criteria of social and educational backwardness.

The amendment will be made to Articles 15 and 16 of the constitution.

KEENLY WATCHED

It remains to be seen how the government plans to provide for reservation to a ‘section within a community or caste’ instead of the entire group.

So far, reservations in jobs and educational institutions have been provided to an entire community, and not to parts of a community.

In other words, if a community like the Marathas or Yadavs are to be given reservations, the government first has to establish that the community is backward socially and/or educationally and has not been able to get a presence in government machinery and higher education in keeping with its population.

In other words, reservation is given only if the community or ethnic group (jati) is found, as a whole, to be under-represented in the institutions of power and education.

However, the same approach cannot be used for ‘forward’ or ‘upper’ caste groups and communities, as they are typically ‘over represented’ in institutions of power and education.

It is believed that over 60% of central government servants are from forward communities, even though the proportion of such communities in the population is only around 25%.

As such, the traditional method of justifying the quota based on under-representation will be impossible, and this requires the government to come up with an alternative justification.

Going by the indications so far, the government will use ‘economic criteria’ to justify the quota.

However, this approach too is likely to throw up challenges as forward or upper castes, in addition to being socially and educationally better off, are usually economically better off as well.

OPTIONS

This leaves the government with two options: The first is to create a new class of reserved seats that are not exclusive to forward castes at all, but are available to the economically weaker sections of all communities.

Such an approach will not require the government to justify including or excluding any community as the whole purpose of this reservation will not be to address the question of representation, but the question of income and poverty.

In other words, while the other reservation quotas are aimed at ensuring fair representation for all communities in institutions of government and education, this particular quota will be aimed at providing means of livelihood to poor people irrespective of caste and community.

Such an approach would also save the government the difficulty of explaining why the poor of socially dominant groups deserve to be admitted under such quota, while an equally poor candidate from a socially backward cannot.

The second approach would be to define the ‘poor within the forward community’ as a separate community, and prove that they are under-represented in the institutions of power and education.

UPDATE: Government has used the term “economically weaker section of society other than” those identified as socially and educationally backward sections and therefore given reservations.

Besides the challenge of proving under-representation, this approach also risks drawing greater judicial scrutiny as litigants could argue that the poor within any community or caste do not form a different community or caste.

A community or caste is defined, in India, by prohibitions on intermarriage, unique social and religious customs, shared social status, common traditions of origin and so on. It would be difficult to define the poor within a community as a distinct community, based on the above criteria.

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