A five-judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court on Monday delivered a historic verdict, upholding the validity of the 103rd Amendment to the Constitution by a 3:2 majority. In this amendment there is a provision that there will be 10 percent reservation for economically weaker people falling in the general category for admission in educational institutions and government jobs.
The Supreme Court also held that this is not a violation of the ceiling of 50 per cent reservation already prescribed in the Indira Sawhney case. Now after this decision of the Supreme Court, the total reservation in admission and government jobs will increase to 59.5 percent.
For the first time ever, the people of India watched the Supreme Court proceedings live on TV and on social media, in which the judges gave their verdict. Monday was also the last day of Chief Justice U U Lalit’s tenure and he began live telecast of the Supreme Court proceedings before demitting office.
There were three main questions before the Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court – (1) Is it against the basic spirit of the Constitution to give reservation to the poor upper castes? (2) Will it be against the constitution to give reservation to poor upper castes in private educational institutions? and (3) whether it is not against the provisions of the Constitution to keep the backward classes, scheduled and scheduled tribes people away from the reservation being given on economic grounds?
Opinions of the judges were divided on this matter. Chief Justice of India U U Lalit and Justice S. While Ravindra Bhat disagreed on the matter, Justice Dinesh Maheshwari, Justice Bela Trivedi and Justice JB Pardiwala ruled in favor of EWS reservation. Backing the EWS quota from the general category, the judges said the quota system cannot be allowed to go on indefinitely and there should be a time limit to pave the way for a casteless and classless society.
Justice Bela Trivedi and Justice JB Pardiwala said that the reservation system should be abolished after some time. He said in his decision that the framers of the Constitution wanted that the objectives of reservation should be achieved within 50 years of the adoption of the Constitution, but this has not been achieved till date, and 75 years of our independence have been completed.
Justice Bela Trivedi said in his judgment, ‘There is no doubt that due to the caste system prevalent in India for centuries, the reservation system had to be implemented in the country. Reservation was introduced to correct the historical injustice done to Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes and to give them an equal ground in competition with the upper castes. After 75 years of independence, in the larger interest of the society, we need to reconsider the reservation system.
Justice Pardiwala said, “Reservation is not a goal, but a means to get social and economic justice and it should not be given the form of vested interest. A large number of backward class members have achieved acceptable standards of education and employment and such people should be removed from the backward classes to focus on those classes which really need help.’
Justice Maheshwari said in his judgment, ‘Reservation given to poor upper castes does not violate the basic spirit of the Constitution and the maximum limit of 50 percent reservation is not immovable.
Justice Bela Trivedi said, “It is a reasonable classification to recognize the poor upper castes as a separate class. Just as equals cannot be treated unequally, unequals cannot be treated equally. Treating unequals equally is a violation of the right to equality enshrined in the Constitution.
On the other hand, Chief Justice UU Lalit and Justice Bhat observed, “The exclusion of SC/ST/OBC poor from the reservation quota of the poor is a form of discrimination, which is prohibited under the Constitution.” Our constitution does not allow exceptions and this amendment weakens the fabric of social justice and so does the basic structure.’
Chief Justice UU Lalit and Justice Ravindra Bhatt said that fixing the economic basis for reservation is against the basic spirit of the Constitution. Creating a separate class for reservation is also against the constitution and it plays with the basic structure of the constitution.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government had announced 10 per cent reservation in educational institutions and government jobs for poor upper castes, and for the same purpose, Parliament passed the 103rd Constitutional Amendment. This amendment was brought because the Supreme Court had imposed a ceiling of 50 per cent on all reservations, and the Constitution needed to be amended. Under this, apart from SC, ST and OBC, a separate category of economically weaker sections was created.
This decision was opposed by many organizations and this amendment was challenged in the Supreme Court. In the category of poor upper castes, only those whose annual family income is less than Rs 8 lakh, who have less than five acres of cultivable land or who have a residential plot of less than 200 square meters.
I think the Supreme Court’s majority decision is historic in many respects. The first thing is that this decision was shown live and the whole country saw the judges read out their decisions. The judges made clear arguments, and said that at the time of independence the goal of becoming a casteless and classless society was set, which has not been achieved so far. Secondly, the judges reminded the government of its responsibilities to give equal rights to all and to help families who are short of resources. Thirdly, the judges said that the economically weaker sections cannot be denied reservation just because they are upper castes.
The stated objective of the Modi government is: “Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas”. In the last few years we have seen that reservations were being given in many states in the name of castes, such as quota for Gujjars in Rajasthan, and quota for Marathas in Maharashtra, but all of them were rejected by the Supreme Court as the maximum of 50 per cent. The limit was already in place.
The problem started when the upper castes also demanded that they be included in SC, ST or OBC. This was causing enmity between the castes. It was necessary to stop this and Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced 10 percent reservation for the economically weaker sections. This will help lakhs of poor upper castes who are financially weak. Modi did not reduce the quota of SC, ST or OBC. He gave an additional 10 percent quota for the poor upper castes.
Political parties swung into action as soon as the Supreme Court’s decision came. Congress leaders welcomed the decision and tried to take credit for it saying that it was a result of the process initiated by former Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh during UPA-I. But the reaction of another Congress leader, Udit Raj, sparked controversy. Udit Raj calls Supreme Court ‘casteist’. He questioned why the Supreme Court suddenly changed its stand when the ceiling of 50 per cent reservation was in force for the last 30 years after the Indira Sawhney case verdict.
BJP leaders hailed the decision and said it was a victory for Prime Minister Modi towards the mission of providing social justice to the poor. Union Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan said, “The Supreme Court’s approval of 10 per cent reservation for poor upper castes is a slap on the face of vested interest parties who tried to create quarrels among the people by spreading false propaganda.”
Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin said the Supreme Court’s decision is a setback to the social justice struggle that has been going on for the last hundred years. He appealed to all like-minded parties and organizations to come together to protect social justice.
I would like to state some facts on the Congress trying to take the credit for implementing the quota for the poor upper castes. In January 2005, the government of the then Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh had set up a commission with the objective of finding ways to help the poor upper castes. This commission gave its report in 2010, in which it was recommended to introduce quota in educational institutions and government jobs. Manmohan Singh’s UPA government could not take any action on this report. When Narendra Modi became the Prime Minister, he started working on this report, and found out how to remove the legal hurdles. In 2019, the 103rd Constitutional Amendment Bill was passed in Parliament, but it was challenged in the Supreme Court.
Now that the Supreme Court has declared the quota of poor upper castes valid, Congress leaders are in a race to take credit for it. But the question is why the UPA government did not take any action on the report for four years. Congress leaders have no answer to this question. This is an issue that no one wants to protest publicly, but tries to obstruct.
It was Lalu Yadav’s RJD who opposed the 10 percent poor upper caste quota law in Parliament. The RJD had then alleged that this quota would reduce the benefits of SC/ST/OBC. While the reality is that in Bihar, Lalu Yadav emerged as the leader of the OBCs, Ram Vilas Paswan emerged as the leader of the Dalits, and Nitish Kumar attacked his political space to create Mahadalits and MBCs, but poor upper castes. Nobody talked about it. The 10 per cent quota for the upper castes will now be a serious challenge for both Lalu Yadav and Nitish Kumar, as the BJP may get wider support from the Bhumihar, Brahmin and Rajput communities.
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