Reservation based on Economic Backwardness

The 124th Constitutional Amendment Bill passed by parliament provides the quotas for the economically weaker sections (EWS). This marked a departure from the earlier precedence from the reservation system for SC, ST and OBCs by delinking caste or community identity as the basis of identifying beneficiary groups.

Reservations are ineffective for distributing economic benefits but more meaningful in distributing opportunities, as a matter of representation, among the marginalised classes which do not have an adequate share in governance.

The Supreme Court has clearly stated that reservations are not poverty alleviation programmes. Supreme Court has further stressed the need for the reservation policies to be based on empirically-sound and rigorously-applied criteria of backwardness.

Making EWS Reservation more inclusive

  • The implementation of the EWS category must involve a rigorous empirical process of identifying the criteria of economic backwardness. It will be severely inadequate if it is based on a single axis like income or asset holding.
  • Rakesh Basant who was a member of the Sachar Committee argues that parental education has a strong impact on higher education participation which is much higher than even caste or community affiliation.
  • Other economic criteria can be supplemented along with parental education status to prepare a composite index of EWS. These could include households headed by females, applicants who belong to rural areas, individuals or households located in notified slums, whose primary income source is manual labour, and who are migrants from poorer states like UP, Bihar or West Bengal.
  • To ensure the sustainability of the index it must also incorporate disqualifications criterion for the creamy layer to exclude households which own a specified portion of land or own living quarters of specified size in cities and towns, an automobile, or have at least one family member with a group A or B job with the Central or state government.

The EWS reservations have a potential to add a desirable dimension to India’s reservation scheme if the policy is implemented scrupulously in line with the fundamental constitutional precepts.

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