Reservation on Economic Basis: Apprehensions and Probabilities

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Recently Bhartiy Janta Party (BJP) has got through a bill in Lok Sabha for 10% reservation on economic basis, Constitution has been amended and consent of the President of India has also been obtained.  It is also worth mentioning that it got support from all the political parties. The Central government has issued a government order and states like Gujrat, Uttar Pradesh and Uttrakhand have decided to implement it. It is also strange that one organisation of Savaranas (higher castes) has challenged it in the Supreme Court but it has denied stopping its operation. According to this arrangement a reservation of 10% has been given to economically backward classes in government services and educational institutions both government and private.

Now it is to be seen whether this step by BJP is meant to give real benefit to the poor or it is just an attempt to influence the poor to get their votes. It is also true that so far BJP with all its promises and slogans like Sab ka Saath , Sabka Vikas ( Development of all ) has failed to solve the problems of weaker sections of society, farmers and workers. Against a claim of creating 2 crore jobs it could create only a few lacs of them.  Job opportunities in government sector are shrinking and the number of unemployed is increasing every day.  In these circumstances it does not appear to be possible to provide any real benefit to the poor sections through reservation. Hence the solution to unemployment lies in creating more jobs and not reservation. Along with it is necessary to make right to employment a fundamental right and also implement reservation in private sector.

Now if you look at the proposed criteria for reservation it is very unjust and impracticable because 90% of non- Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST) population will come within the income limit of 8 lacs for whom only 10% reservation has been proposed. Similarly the limit of 5 acres of land is also very high whereas the number of small and marginal farmers is very large.  Similarly the criterion of house plot size is also impracticable. Now if the government really wants to benefit the poor the income criterion of 8 lacs should be lowered to non-income tax payers and land criterion of 5 acres should be lowered to small and marginal farmers and low income level groups.

If we look at the constitutional aspect of the proposed reservation, at present there is no provision for reservation on economic basis. Even earlier whenever reservation was given on economic basis, it was struck down by Supreme Court/High Courts. The present criterion of social and educational backwardness is collective whereas poverty is an individual condition. Social and educational backwardness is the result of historical situation whereas economic backwardness is the result of wrong economic policies of the state and is subject to change. Hence the proposed reservation is likely to be struck down by the Supreme Court. It is significant to note that there is a cap of 50% on upper limit of reservation. There are chances of this reservation being rejected on this ground also.

It has also to be kept in mind that the basic purpose of the reservation is to bring SCs/ST and Other Backward Classes  at par with others classes by providing them representation through reservation in public services, legislature and educational institutions. It is not a poverty alleviation programme. Reservation came into existence to provide adequate representation for Untouchables, who were historically discriminated against. Tribals and OBCs, who were at the bottom of the caste system, have also been granted this benefit. There is a need to implement poverty alleviations programmes to eradicate poverty among higher castes. But the government is continuously decreasing the budget for welfare schemes. Hence there is a need for giving more budgets for welfare schemes.

Dalit leaders subscribing to Dalit Bahujan ideology raise a demand in the name of social justice that reservation should be given to all castes in proportion to their population.  This argument is at once non-sensical as reservation is not a dole which should be distributed to all. It is a process of giving representation in the main stream to those sections of society who have been victims of historical injustice and discrimination.  It is not meant to give economic benefit to them. Apart from it when there is an upper limit of 50% reservation how it can be raised to 100%. Dalits are also quite apprehensive that if today reservation is accepted on economic basis then there is the possibility of a demand for applying it to their reservation also.

One benefit of this announcement of Modi government has been that the basis of opposition to SC/ST and OBC reservation by higher castes has been eroded because it has been accepted by all the classes. It has also given justification to the reservation given so far. It has also weakened the united opposition to reservation by the upper castes which is in the interest of democracy.

The haste and the point of time at which Modi government has declared reservation on economic basis, it appears to be a political game plan. With it BJP is trying to hold on to the poorer sections of higher castes that have been moving away from it and opposition political parties were trying to co-opt them, but it has got a limited success in it.  On the contrary the elite class of Savaranas (higher castes) has got angry with it because they see a danger for them because in future the upper limit of reservation can be raised. That is why not from any other side but “Youth for Equality” who have been opposing reservation on caste basis has filed a writ in the Supreme Court to oppose this reservation. If economic based reservation is not struck down by Supreme Court it can motivate the OBCs to raise demand for increase in reservation quota in proportion to their population.

It is also well known that reservation provides an opportunity to the exploiting class to make inroads into the exploited classes and creates an elite class whose class interest motivates them to absorb them into exploiting class. It has been seen that the elite class (creamy layer) which has emerged among Dalits and OBCs, their class interest is to take the maximum benefit of reservation for them.  It also often comes for discussion that the benefit of reservation has remained confined to a few families only. It is also alleged that the elite section of these classes often oppose the relaxation of criterion like lowering of income limit for creamy layer or giving preference to the most backward among these classes. Savarnas often raise this demand that elite sections and the families which have once taken the benefit of reservation should not be further given this benefit. This demand is vehemently opposed by elite sections of SC/Sts and OBCs. But the new reservation police is bound  speed up this discussion and the demand for equitable benefits of reservation.

From the above discussion it is clear that although the economic based reservation declared by Modi government is more motivated by political considerations rather than giving any real benefit to the economically poor sections of society but still it has got many implications. If it is not struck down by the Supreme Court it will give rise to many new equations in the society and can weaken Savarna unity. It can also lead to unity in self interest among elite sections of SC/ST and OBC classes against the remaining sections of these classes. As regards political gain to BJP it will be very limited because whereas the economically poorer sections of Savaranas may be happy with it but at the same time higher castes of Savaranas may be unhappy. On the whole reservation on economic basis is a new phenomenon which will have far reaching social and political implications.

SR Darapuri, I.P.S.(Retd) and Organiser, Jan Manch

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