124th constitutional amendments Reservations for Economically Weaker Sections

The 124th Constitutional Amendment was done to amend the Constitution of India to extend 10 per cent reservation in direct recruitment in government jobs and for admission in higher educational institutions to ‘economically weaker’ sections. The reservation seeks to provide for the advancement of economically weaker sections of all castes and communities including Christians and Muslims. It intends to help the poor among the upper castes.

In simple terms, reservation is about facilitating access to seats in the government jobs, educational institutions and even legislatures to certain sections of the population. In India, it is governed by government policies backed by the Indian Constitution. 

HISTORICAL CONTEXT

The origin of reservation system is rooted in the age-old caste system of India. These sections of society especially those of lower castes have faced historical injustice due to their caste identity. Historically, William Hunter and Jyotirao Phule in 1882 originally conceived the idea of caste-based reservation system.

The reservation system that exists today was introduced in 1933 when British Prime Minister Ramsay Macdonald presented the ‘Communal Award’. The award made provisions for separate electorates for Muslims, Sikhs, Indian Christians, Anglo-Indian, Europeans and the Dalits. After long negotiations, Gandhi and Ambedkar signed the ‘Ponna Pact’, where it was decided that there would be a angle Hindu electorate with certain reservations in it. After independence, initially reservation were provided only for SCs and STs and OBCs were included in the ambit of reservation in 1991 on the recommendations of the Mandal Commission.

INCREASE IN DEMAND FOR RESERRVATIONS

The increase in demand for reservation can be traced to the fact that it is being seen as a remedy for the adverse effects of ill-thought out development policies. A number of factors are responsible for violent agitation associated with demands for reservation. These are acute agrarian distress, increase in unemployment and loss of jobs among many others.

A widespread demand for reservations among different sections of society is being made; this includes Marathas in Maharashtra, Jats in Haryana, Rajput’s in Rajasthan, Kapus in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh and Patel Patidars in Gujarat among many others.

Increasing reservation demands among upper castes are also arising from the fear of losing privilege and the inability to cope with change. Thus, upper castes have begun to feel disadvantaged especially in context of government jobs as they don’t get similar advantages like the backward classes.

CONSTITUTIONAL PROVISIONS FOR EWS RESERVATION

In a significant move to address demands of the Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) of the society who were earlier not covered by any of the existing schemes of reservation. The 124th Amendment to the Constitution, 2019 was brought so as to provide 10% reservation for the weaker section of general category in direct recruitment for government jobs and admission to higher educational institutions. The Act amends Article 15 and 16 of the Constitution, by adding a clause which allows state to make special provision for the advancement of any economically weaker sections of general category. Accordingly, Articles 15(6) and 16(6) have been inserted in the Constitution to effect the reservation for EWS.      

ELIGIBLITY FOR EWS RESERVATION

The Union Government has set certain criterion to be eligible for reservation in EWS category. The reservation benefits can be availed by those persons who are not covered under the scheme of reservation for SCs, STs and OBCs and whose family has gross annual income below ₹ 8 lakh. Income shall also include income from all sources i.e. salary, agriculture, profession, etc., for the financial year prior to the year of application. Also, persons whose family owns or possesses any of the following assets shall be excluded from being identified as EWS, irrespective of the family income

  • 5 acres of agricultural land and above.
  • Residential flat of 1000 sq. ft. and above
  • Residential plot of 100 sq. yards and above in notified municipalities.
  • Residential plot of 200 sq. yards and above in areas other than the notified municipalities.

The property held by a ‘Family’ in different locations or different places/cities would be clubbed while applying the land or property holding test to determine EWS status. The term ‘Family’ for this purpose will include the person who seeks benefit of reservation, his/her parents and siblings below the age of 18years as also his\her spouse and children below the age of 18years. Further, the states will also determine the reservation criterion accordingly depending upon local factors. The applicability of the reservation is for both jobs in the government sector as well as for seats in higher educational institutions i.e. colleges and universities.  

CHALLENGES TO CONSTITUTIONAL STATUS FOR EWS QUOTA

As the Constitution stands amended, the only constitutional challenge left is conformity to the basic structure doctrine. So far, it has become an established principle that reservation shall have a cap of 50%. In the Indira Sawhney Case (1992), the Supreme Court said that such quotas cannot be provided for poverty alone. It has to be poverty plus social and educational backwardness and the backwardness should reflect historic injustice through generations. The court then said that reservations beyond 50% will hit Article 14 (Right to Equality). Half of jobs and seats in educational institutions must, therefore be for the general merit category. Equality is part of the basic structure, the court insisted. Hence, this step will also violate the Supreme Court ruling of Kesavananda Bharati Case which said that any amendment which offended the basic structure of constitution would be ultra vires.

CONCLUSION

Reservation is fair, as far as it provides appropriate positive discrimination for the benefit of the downtrodden and economically backward sections of the society. However, it also leads to associated problems, such as passing the benefits to only a privileged group who have already been benefited by reservation. The communities excluded from reservations often harbour animosity and prejudice against the castes included in the reservation category. When more people aspire for backwardness rather than of forwardness, the country itself stagnates. A strong political will is indispensable to find equilibrium between justice to the backwards, equity for the forwards and efficiency for the entire system.

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