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Disquiet over SC quota observation

Exclusion of the creamy layer among the other backward classes is allowed but such exclusions don’t apply to SCs and STs

Basant Kumar Mohanty New Delhi Published 23.04.20, 11:16 PM
The Supreme Court of India

The Supreme Court of India The Telegraph file picture

Scholars and activists on Thursday disapproved of a Supreme Court suggestion that the “socially and economically advanced” among Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes be excluded from reservation benefits, saying such a step would go against the concept of proportionate representation.

Several people this newspaper spoke to underlined that reservation was not a poverty alleviation programme but was aimed at adequate representation for those who have been historically deprived.


The court’s observation had come on Wednesday as it set side a 20-year-old Andhra Pradesh government order for 100 per cent reservation for tribal people in jobs in schools in tribal-dominated Schedule V areas.

The bench had then proceeded to deal with a demand for excluding the affluent among SC/ST members from the benefits of reservation but left it to the government to take the call.

“Now there is a cry within the reserved classes. By now, there are affluent and socially and economically advanced classes within SCs and STs. There is voice by deprived persons of social upliftment of some of the SCs/STs, but they still do not permit benefits to trickle down to the needy. Thus there is a struggle within as to the worthiness for entitlement within the reserved classes of SCs, ST and OBCs,” the five-judge bench, headed by Justice Arun Mishra, said.

Exclusion of the creamy layer among the other backward classes is allowed but such exclusions don’t apply to SCs and STs who have been getting reservation in the ratio of 15 per cent and 7.5 per cent, respectively, in jobs and education.

The court referred to a point raised by counsel Rajeev Dhawan at the hearing. “In our opinion, it is rightly urged by Rajeev Dhawan that the government is required to revise the list. It can be done presently without disturbing the percentage of reservation so that benefits trickle down to the needy and are not usurped by those classes who have come up after obtaining the benefits for the last 70 years or after their inclusion in the list. The government is duty bound to undertake such an exercise as observed in the Indira Sawhney (case) and as constitutionally envisaged. The government to take appropriate steps in this regard,” the court observed.

The Supreme Court had in 1992 upheld 27 per cent reservation for OBCs in the Indira Sawhney case.

Prof. Kancha Ilaiah, author and academic, said the observations of the court strengthened the idea of introducing a creamy layer among SCs and STs.

“This is an argument for opening the path for creamy layers among SCs and STs. This will have a huge implication if implemented. If the rich among the SCs and STs are denied reservation benefits, they remaining SCs and STs cannot compete due to poor education and training. They will fail to occupy the reserved posts. The idea of proportionate representation cannot be achieved,” Ilaiah said.

Prof. Vivek Kumar, sociologist and faculty member at Jawaharlal Nehru University, said the objective of introducing reservation was to correct the social injustice that SCs, STs and backward classes have faced for thousands of years.

“Reservation is to achieve adequate representation of SCs, STs and OBCs. It is not a poverty alleviation programme.'

Kumar also said there was a huge backlog of SC and ST posts in government and public institutions because of discrimination by people from the privileged castes.

“How can reservation enjoyed by one generation compensate the loss of thousands of years due to the institutional practice of exclusion?” Kumar said.

Ashok Bharati, an activist, said the court has been giving observations of this kind in recent years.

Earlier, in February, the court had ruled that states were not bound to provide reservation in appointments and there was no fundamental right guaranteeing quotas in promotions.

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