The Union Cabinet has approved a proposal for introduction of the Constitution (One Hundred and Twenty- Fourth Amendment) Bill, extending 10% quota to “the economically weaker sections in the general category who are not covered by any of the existing schemes of reservation”.
The bill is designed to amend the Constitution to extend 10% reservation in direct recruitment in government jobs and for admission in higher educational institutions to “economically weaker” sections among all castes and communities, Christians and Muslims included, who are not eligible under the existing quotas.
The proposed amendment Bill will define Economically Weaker Section (EWS) as one having:
- Annual household income below Rs 8 lakh.
- Agriculture land below 5 acres.
- Residential house below 1000 sqft.
- Residential plot below 100 yards in notified municipality.
- Residential plot below 200 yards in non-notified municipality area.
What would it take for the quota to become reality?
It will need an amendment of Articles 15 (prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth) and 16 (equality of opportunity in matters of public employment) of the Constitution.
The amendment will have to be ratified in both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, by at least two thirds of members present and voting, and by the legislatures of not less than half the states.
The 10% reservation will be in addition to the existing cap of 50% reservation for the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and the Other Backward Classes, taking total reservation to 60%. The quota targets the poor among the upper castes. This will be over and above 50% mandated by Constitution and hence the need for Constitution amendment Bill.
Supreme Court in Indira Sawhney case:
The proposed law would face roadblocks if challenged in the Supreme Court.
A nine-judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court in the Indira Sawhney case of 1992 specifically answered the question “whether backward classes can be identified only and exclusively with reference to the economic criterion.”
The constitution bench had categorically ruled that a backward class cannot be determined only and exclusively with reference to economic criterion. The bench had held that economic criterion may be a consideration or basis along with, and in addition to, social backwardness, but it can never be the sole criterion.
The bench in its judgement declared 50% quota as the rule unless extraordinary situations “inherent in the great diversity of this country and the people” happen. Even then, the court stated that extreme caution is to be exercised and a special case should be made out.
Sources: the hindu.
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