Cabinet Approves 10% Reservation For Economically Backward Among General Category
General crowd of shoppers, vendors and pedestrians at the Sitabuldi market in Nagpur. (Photographer: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg)

Cabinet Approves 10% Reservation For Economically Backward Among General Category

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In a major move ahead of the Lok Sabha polls, the Union cabinet on Monday cleared a 10 percent job and education quota for "economically weaker" sections, meeting a key demand of upper castes, a staunch BJP support base which has shown signs of a drift from the party.

A top government functionary said a constitutional amendment bill will be tabled in Parliament on Tuesday, the last day of the Winter Session.

The proposed reservation will be over and above the existing 50 percent reservation enjoyed by the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and the Other Backward Classes, taking the total reservation to 60 percent.

The constitutional amendment bill would be required as the constitution does not provide for reservation on the ground of economic conditions. It envisages amendment to the Articles 5 and 6.

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 percent quota cannot fetter Parliament's right to amend the Constitution," he said.

In its famous Indra Sawhney judgement, the Supreme Court had set a 50 percent 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," a source said.

Among the major castes to benefit from the proposed law are Brahmins, Rajputs (Thakurs), Jats, Marathas, Bhumihars, several trading castes, and Kapus and Kammas, among other upper castes.

The poor among the other religions will also benefit from it, people in the know said. The Congress described the government's decision as an "election gimmick" to fool the people and a proof of BJP's "fear" of losing Lok Sabha polls.

Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi accused the government of "posturing" and misleading the country as it did not have the requisite majority to get a Constitutional amendment passed in Parliament.

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".

The constitutional amendment bill seeks to insert a clause in Sections 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 BJP believes that if the 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.

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 judgement in the Indra Sawhney case had fixed a ceiling of 50 percent on reservation.

The apex 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.

He said 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 sqft or more, land of 100 yards in notified municipality area and 200 yards in 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.

Political watchers believe that sections of upper castes had drifted from the party of late following its aggressive push to win over backward classes and Dalits.

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.

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