- The Union Government has decided to revisit the criteria set out for eligibility for its 10% reservation under the economically weaker sections (EWS) category within a month. The main criterion is a family income ceiling of ₹8 lakh.
- The decision came after the Supreme Court closely questioned it on how it arrived at the income figure, while considering a challenge to the implementation of 27% reservation for the Other Backward Classes and 10% for the EWS under the all-India quota for medical admissions.
How was EWS reservation introduced?
- The 10% reservation was introduced through the 103rd Constitution Amendment and enforced in January 2019. It added Clause (6) to Article 15 to empower the Government to introduce special provisions for the EWS among citizens except those in the classes that already enjoy reservation.
- It allows reservation in educational institutions, both public and private, whether aided or unaided, excluding those run by minority institutions, up to a maximum of 10%. It also added Clause (6) to Article 16 to facilitate reservation in employment. The new clauses make it clear that the EWS reservation will be in addition to the existing reservation.
- The Constitution initially allowed special provisions only for the socially and educationally backward classes. When the Congress Government tried to introduce a 10% quota for the poorer among the general category, the Supreme Court struck it down, saying there is no provision in the Constitution for reservation on the basis of an economic criterion.
- Through this amendment, the Government introduced the concept of ‘economic backwardness’ for a new class of affirmative action programmes for those not covered by or eligible for the community-based quotas.
What are the criteria to identify the section?
- The main criterion is that those above an annual income limit of ₹8 lakh are excluded (income from all sources such as salary, business, agriculture and profession for the financial year prior to the application) of the family (applicants, their parents, siblings and minor children). Possession of any of these assets, too, can take a person outside the EWS pool: five or more acres of agricultural land, a residential flat of 1,000 sq.ft. and above, a residential plot of 100 square yards and above in notified municipalities, and a residential plot of 200 square yards and above in other areas.
What are the court’s questions about the criteria?
- The court has been intrigued by the income limit being fixed at ₹8 lakh per year, as it is the same figure for excluding the ‘creamy layer’ from OBC reservation benefits.
- A crucial difference is that those in the general category, to whom the EWS quota is applicable, do not suffer from social or educational backwardness, unlike those classified as the OBC.
- In line with the Supreme Court’s known position that any reservation or norms for exclusion should be based on relevant data, the Bench wants to know whether the criteria for the EWS were arrived at based on any study.
What is the current status of the EWS quota?
- The reservation for the EWS is being implemented by the Union Government for the second year now. Recruitment test results show that the category has a lower cut-off mark than the OBC, a point that has upset the traditional beneficiaries of reservation based on caste. The explanation is that only a small number of people are currently applying under the EWS category — one has to get an income certificate from the revenue authorities — and therefore the cut-off is low. However, when the number picks up over time, the cut-off marks are expected to rise. The EWS quota remains a controversy as its critics say it reduces the size of the open category, besides breaching the 50% limit on the total reservation.