Sub-categorising OBCs

Source: By Shyamlal Yadav: The Indian Express

On 6 July 2022, the Centre extended the tenure of The Commission to Examine Sub-categorisation of Other Backward Classes (OBCs) headed by Justice G Rohini, former Chief Justice of Delhi High Court. The Commission, constituted nearly five years ago, has got 10 extensions so far, and now has until 31 January next year to submit its report.

What is sub-categorisation of OBCs?

The idea is to create sub-categories within the larger group of OBCs for the purpose of reservation. OBCs are granted 27% reservation in jobs and education under the central government. This has been a legal debate for other reservation categories too: in September last year, a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court reopened the debate on sub-categorisation of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes for reservations.

For OBCs, the debate arises out of the perception that only a few affluent communities among the over 2,600 included in the Central List of OBCs have secured a major part of the 27% reservation. The argument for creating sub-categories within OBCs is that it would ensure “equitable distribution” of representation among all OBC communities.

It was to examine this that the Rohini Commission was constituted on 2 October 2017.

What is the Commission’s brief?

It was originally set up with three terms of reference:

  1. To examine the extent of inequitable distribution of benefits of reservation among the castes or communities included in the broad category of OBCs with reference to such classes included in the Central List.
  2. To work out the mechanism, criteria, norms and parameters in a scientific approach for sub-categorisation within such OBCs.
  3. To take up the exercise of identifying the respective castes or communities or sub-castes or synonyms in the Central List of OBCs and classifying them into their respective sub-categories. A fourth term of reference was added on 22 January 2020.
  4. To study the various entries in the Central List of OBCs and recommend correction of any repetitions, ambiguities, inconsistencies and errors of spelling or transcription.

This was added following a letter to the government from the Commission on 30 July 2019, in which it flagged “several ambiguities in the list as it stands now”.

When was it meant to submit its report?

At the time it was set up, the Commission was given 12 weeks to submit its report, but has since been given 10 extensions. The other member in the Commission is former journalist Jitendra Bajaj, director of the Centre for Policy Studies. In May this year, the government appointed Prof Bajaj the next chairperson of the Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR).

In 2021 until August 31, the National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC) incurred an expenditure of Rs 54.01 lakh on the Commission, according to the NCBC response to an RTI query this week. This includes the salaries of Justice Rohini and Prof Bajaj, salaries of consultant and outsourcing staff, and miscellaneous and hospitality items. In response to an earlier RTI query, the NCBC had said that until December 2020, over Rs 1.92 crore had been spent on the Commission including salary, consultant fees and other expenses.

What progress has it made so far?

In its letter on 30 July 2019, the Commission wrote that it is ready with the draft report on sub-categorisation. Following the new term of reference added in January 22, the Commission began studying the list of communities in the central list.

Among the challenges it has faced, one has been the absence of data for the population of various communities to compare with their representation in jobs and admissions. The Commission wrote to Minister of Social Justice and Empowerment Thawar Chand Gehlot on 12 December 2018, requesting for an appropriate Budget provision for a proposed all-India survey for an estimate of the caste-wise population of OBCs. But on 7 March 2019 (three days before the Lok Sabha poll schedule was announced), Justice Rohini wrote to Gehlot: “We have now decided not to undertake such a survey at this stage.”

On 31 August 2018, then Home Minister Rajnath Singh had announced that in Census 2021, data of OBCs will also be collected, but since then the government has been silent on this, whereas groups of OBCs have been demanding enumeration of OBCs in the Census.

What have its findings been so far?

In 2018, the Commission analysed the data of 1.3 lakh central jobs given under OBC quota over the preceding five years and OBC admissions to central higher education institutions, including universities, IITs, NITs, IIMs and AIIMS, over the preceding three years. The findings were: 97% of all jobs and educational seats have gone to just 25% of all sub-castes classified as OBCs; 24.95% of these jobs and seats have gone to just 10 OBC communities; 983 OBC communities — 37% of the total — have zero representation in jobs and educational institutions; 994 OBC sub-castes have a total representation of only 2.68% in recruitment and admissions.

What is the extent of OBC recruitment in central jobs?

According to data tabled in Parliament by Jitendra Singh, MoS for Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions, in Rajya Sabha on 17 March, the total number of Group A to Group C employees (including safai karmacharis) was 5.12 lakh (see table). Of these, 17.70% are SC, 6.72% ST, 20.26% OBC (Other Backward Classes), and 0.02% EWS (Economically Weaker Sections). In Group-A, the highest tier among these, the representation of SCs is just 12.86%, of STs 5.64% and of OBCs 16.88%. Reservation for these communities is 15%, 7.5% and 27% respectively.

These data cover 43 departments and government offices including Cabinet Secretariat, UPSC and Election Commission, but excluding the largest central government employers such as Railways and Department of Posts.

Separately, on 2 February 2022 in Lok Sabha, Jitendra Singh said that among Secretaries and Special Secretaries, only six belong to SCs and STs, and, “no data regarding OBC is maintained”. On 31 March 2022 in Rajya Sabha, he said: “Out of 91 Additional Secretaries, the number of officers belonging to SC/ST and OBC communities are 10 and 4 respectively and out of 245 Joint Secretaries, the number of officers belonging to SC/ST and OBC communities are 26 and 29 respectively in various Ministries/Departments under Central Staffing Scheme.”