Implications of caste census on reservation in India

caste census on reservation

Context: Arguments employed by the Supreme Court in its majority verdict to uphold the 10% economically weaker sections (EWS) quota among forward castes can become a stimulus for the backward classes to seek reservation over and above the 50% ceiling limit based on the data published after the Bihar caste-based survey.

This article explores the 2022 Supreme Court judgment in the case “Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) Judgement: Janhit Abhiyan v Union of India,” which centers on the 103rd Constitutional Amendment in India. This amendment introduced reservations based solely on economic criteria in higher education and public employment, amending Articles 15 and 16 of the Constitution.

Key points covered include:

  • Reservations for economically weaker sections in educational institutions, with a 10% cap, independent of existing reservations.
  • Provisions for reservations in appointments, with a 10% ceiling.

We will also delve into the Court’s arguments, such as the use of economic criteria for reservations and the right to equality. The Supreme Court’s judgment, upholding EWS reservations, is discussed, along with the reasoning for excluding SCs/STs/OBCs and the breach of the 50% reservation limit. 

Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) Judgement:

Janhit Abhiyan v Union of India, 2022

Parliament of India enacted the Constitution (One Hundred and Third Amendment) Act, 2019 and provided for the following:

  • It amended Articles 15 and 16 of the Constitution by inserting 15(6) and 16(6).
  • It enabled the State to make reservations in higher education and matters of public employment based on economic criteria alone. 

Article 15(6) enables the State to make special provisions for the advancement of any economically weaker section of citizens, including reservations in educational institutions. 
It states that such reservations can be made in any educational institution, including both aided and unaided private institutions, except minority educational institutions covered under Article 30(1). The upper limit of EWS reservations will be 10% This 10% ceiling is independent of ceilings on existing reservations.

Article 16(6) enables the State to make provisions for reservations in appointments.These provisions will be subject to a 10% ceiling, in addition to the existing reservations.

Arguments faced by the Court 

  • With respect to Indra Sawhney v. Union of India (1992) Judgement 
    • Can reservations be based solely on economic criteria as opposed to the judgement?
    • The Amendment introduces reservations that exceed the 50% ceiling-limit on reservations as fixed in the judgement.
  • With respect to Right to equality  
    • Can SCs/STs and OBCs be excluded from economic reservations violating right to equality.
    • Imposing reservations on educational institutions that do not receive State aid violates the fundamental right to equality.

Judgement by the Supreme Court on EWS Reservation 

In a 3-2 majority, the Supreme Court upheld the 103rd Constitutional Amendment providing EWS reservation, and Court extended the net of reservation benefits to include solely economic backwardness. In this judgement court observed the following: 

Sole Economic Criteria Can be Used to Give Reservation 

  • Economic empowerment of weaker sections ensures equality of the status as envisioned in the constitution. 
  • The Directive Principles place an obligation on the State to address economic inequalities.
  • This action of providing reservation in favour of the weak or disadvantaged people by reasonable classification is an affirmative action by the state.
  • Nothing in the constitution prevents the State from creating a new criterion for affirmative action through a Constitutional Amendment. 

Right to Equality is Ensured in Giving EWS Reservation

  • The amendment creates a separate class of economic weaker sections of society without affecting the reservations provided to the SCs, STs and OBCs. 
  • Their exclusion does not violate the equality code.
  • EWS reservations ensure that a reasonably classified group of people, those below a certain income level, are given access to education and employment opportunities. 
  • It is designed to promote directive principle of state policy including Article 46, and thus upholds constitutional goals, even if it does not adhere to a formal understanding of equality.

Exclusion of SCs/STs/OBCs is Justified 

  • Special provisions already exist in the constitution for SCs/STs/OBCs reservation. 
  • People belonging to EWS form a separate category and are different from the general category. So, there is no active exclusion of SCs/STs/OBCs. 
  • The legislature, in their wisdom, decided to include a specific group of people in the reservation matrix. 

Breach of 50% Limit in Giving Reservation is Justified 

  • The 50% ceiling limits has only been recognised in the reservations of SC/STs and OBCs. 
  • The limit cannot be extended to an entirely separate class like Economically Weaker Sections.

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