For Prelims: Affirmative action, reservations, scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, and other backward classes

For Mains: Consequences of the (EWS) Quota, its advantages and disadvantages. 

Why in News?

The 103rd Constitutional Amendment, which provides 10% reservation for the Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) among forward castes in government jobs and colleges across India, was recently upheld by the Supreme Court.

What is the Verdict?

Majority View:

  • It cannot be said that the 103rd amendment violates the Constitution's fundamental principles.
  • The EWS quota does not violate equality and the fundamental principles of the Constitution. The Constitution's provisions are not violated by a reservation made in addition to one that already exists.
  • The State uses affirmative action through the reservation to include underprivileged groups.
  • The fundamental structure cannot be violated by allowing the State to provide education.
  • Reservation plays a crucial role in helping disadvantaged classes, as well as socially and economically disadvantaged classes, integrate into society.
  • Due to the 50% ceiling limit set by the Mandal Commission, reservations for EWS do not violate the fundamental structure because the ceiling limit is flexible.
  • The Supreme Court's creation of the 50% rule in the 1992 Indira Sawhney decision was "not rigid." Additionally, it did not apply to the general category; instead, it was specific to the SC/ST/SEBC/OBC communities.
  • As opposed to the general or unreserved category, the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, and the backward class for whom the special provisions have already been provided in Articles 15(4), 15(5), and 16(4) form a separate category.

Minority View:

  • Reservations are an effective tool for enabling equal access. It is unfair to introduce economic criteria and exclude SC (Scheduled Castes), ST (Scheduled Tribes), and OBC (Other Backward Classes) because they already received these benefits.
  • The exclusion of SC, ST, and OBC violates the equality code and fundamental structure, while the EWS quota may have a reparative mechanism to create a level playing field.
  • Allowing the 50% ceiling limit to be exceeded would "open the door for additional violations and lead to compartmentalization (division into sections).

What is the EWS Quota (Economically Weaker Section)?

About:

  • By amending Articles 15 and 16, the 103rd Constitution (Amendment) Act of 2019 brought about the 10% EWS quota.
    • Articles 15 and 16 (6) were inserted.
  • For members of the Economically Weaker Sections (EWS), there is a financial reservation for employment and admission to educational institutions.
  • It was implemented to advance the welfare of the underprivileged who were not protected by the 50% reservation policy for SEBC, SC, and ST members. 
  • It allows reservations to be offered to the EWS of society by both the Center and the States.

Significance:

  • Addresses Unfairness
    • Since economically disadvantaged citizens have been prevented from enrolling in higher education institutions and working in the public sector due to their financial inability, the 10% quota is progressive and may help address India's educational and income inequality issues.
  • Recognizing Economic Backwardness:
    • Other than the backward classes, many people and classes also experience hunger and extreme poverty.
    • By implementing the suggested reservation through a constitutional amendment, the poor from the upper castes would receive constitutional recognition.
  • Reducing Discrimination Based on Caste:
    • Additionally, since reservations have historically been linked to caste and the upper caste frequently despises those who enter through reservations, it will gradually eliminate the stigma attached to them.

Concerns:

  • Lack of Data:
    • No such data is available to the federal or State governments to demonstrate that members of the "upper" caste who earn less than Rs 8 lakh annually are not fairly represented in government employment and higher education. They might be overrepresented in these places, which is a strong possibility.
  • Unreliable standards:
    • The government's criteria for determining who qualifies for this reservation are nebulous and not supported by any research or data.
    • Even the Supreme Court asked the government if it had considered the GDP per capita for each State when determining the maximum amount to be allocated for the EWS reservation.
    • According to statistics, there are significant differences between the per capita incomes of the various states. Goa has the highest per capita income, at almost Rs. 4 lakhs, while Bihar has the lowest, at Rs. 40,000.

Forward Motion

  • The Indian political class needs to overcome its propensity to keep enlarging the definition of the reservation to gain political advantage and acknowledge that it is not a cure-all for all ills.
  • The government should emphasize the quality of education and other successful social upliftment measures rather than granting reservations based on various criteria. Instead of making them job seekers, it ought to foster an entrepreneurial spirit in them.