A government commission is set to recommend subdividing the Other Backward Classes quota into three sections, endorsing the long-held suspicion that a few OBC sub-communities were cornering a disproportionately large chunk of the 27 per cent reservation.
The commission, formed in 2017 and headed by former Delhi High Court Chief Justice G. Rohini, last month received its ninth extension — till January next year — to finalise its recommendations on the sub-categorisation of the OBCs.
J.K. Bajaj, commission member and director of the Chennai-based Centre for Policy Studies, said the panel had analysed data on backward communities’ share in the population and their representation in central government jobs and educational institutions such as the IITs, IIMs and central universities.
He told The Telegraph that a few dozen among the about 5,000 OBC communities had cornered about half the jobs and university seats under the quota, while many other backward communities had zero or near-zero representation.
“We want to go very objectively. The communities which have high representation compared to their share in the OBC population will be put in one category. Those who have nil or near-nil representation will be in one group. There will be other categories for those that have representation but an inadequate one. All will be entitled to reservation according to their share in the OBC population,” Bajaj said.
“The idea is that those who can compete with each other are grouped together. This will provide a level playing field for all and the commission believes that no community is likely to lose anything.”
Various OBC groups have over the years demanded sub-categorisation of the quota on these grounds but this is the first official effort by the Centre to do so. Several states, though, have introduced sub-quotas within their OBC reservation.
The Rohini commission has, however, had to depend on British-era caste censuses to ascertain the various sub-communities’ shares in the OBC population since the government has withheld the findings of the only such count in Independent India, the 2011 Socio-Economic and Caste Census.
This has led some OBC groups to criticise the commission for failing to hold public hearings to get a clearer picture of contemporary realities. However, Bajaj said, the panel had held enough consultations with community representatives and government officials.
Some OBC community members saw a political motive, saying the Narendra Modi government was trying to take a share of the quota away from prominent OBC communities that it thought were not voting for it, and give it to others who might.
In assessing population shares, the commission went by the list of Socially and Educationally Backward Classes --- the constitutionally mandated name for OBCs – that the Centre has been maintaining, based on pre-Independence censuses conducted since 1881.
Bajaj said the central list --- broken up into separate sections for each state --- has 2,633 entries. (Many of the states, which have their own OBC lists, have over the years included additional communities that don’t figure on the central list.)
However, sometimes more than one community is mentioned under a single entry, Bajaj said. So, the actual number of sub-communities covered by the 2,633 entries could be over 5,000, he said.
“We found that nearly 2,000 entries that may possibly represent 3,000 communities have either nil or very little representation under the central OBC quota in jobs and education,” Bajaj said. “Many of these communities are such that they would be listed as Scheduled Castes or Scheduled Tribes in some states. These communities are of the fisher folk, boat keepers, itinerant traders, petty craftsmen, minor peasants and so on.”
On the other hand, “communities listed under about 40 to 50 entries have availed themselves of 50 per cent of the (OBC) reservation”, he added.
Bajaj conceded that the commission had been forced into some “rationalisation” because of spelling errors in some of the entries or because the list clubbed different communities together at some places.
Bajaj said the commission had collected data on OBC admissions from individual centrally funded educational institutions and on recruitment from the various central services, departments and agencies.
In 1980, the Mandal Commission had analysed census data from 1931, found the OBCs making up 52 per cent of the population, and recommended 27 per cent reservation for the community. The V.P. Singh government in 1990 decided to implement it in central government jobs.
The actual implementation started in 1993 after a green light from the Supreme Court. The 27 per cent quota in centrally funded higher educational institutions began in 2008.
The Modi government set up the Rohini commission in October 2017 to suggest ways of sub-dividing the quota for a more equitable distribution of its benefits.
Hansraj Jangra, president of the influential OBC Joint Action Committee, said the commission should have held public hearings across the country “to understand the representation of the different OBC communities in jobs and education, and their social status”.
“Since the commission has not done that, its recommendations will be challenged in court on this ground,” Jangra said.
Bajaj said the commission had conducted wide consultations and heard around 70 delegations from various backward class communities besides the social welfare department of every state. It also held “five regional meetings” with officials and community leaders, he said.
G. Karunanidhy, secretary of the All India Federation of OBCs, said the sub-categorisation was a “purely political project”.
“The Modi government set up this commission in 2017 to target the land-owning OBCs in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. It felt they were not voting for the BJP,” he said.
“Now it realises that a substantial section among the Yadavs and Jats in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, Vokkaligas in Karnataka and Kunvis in Maharashtra are voting for the BJP. So the government is delaying the report.”
Karunanidhy and Jangra said the OBCs now had a meagre 14 per cent representation in government jobs.
“Officials from privileged castes keep the reserved OBC posts vacant, saying no suitable candidate was found during the interview,” he said.
But Bajaj said the commission had found that the OBC quota posts were largely filled over the past five years.
“Covid willing”, he said, the commission would submit its report before the deadline of January 2021.