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30 years since Mandal Commission recommendations’

Published: 17th Aug, 2020

On this day, 30 years ago – 7 August 1990 – the VP Singh government accepted the Mandal Commission's recommendations and announced that it would implement the reservation scheme – under which 27 percent jobs would be given to members of Other Backward Classes.


On this day, 30 years ago – 7 August 1990 – the VP Singh government accepted the Mandal Commission's recommendations and announced that it would implement the reservation scheme – under which 27 percent jobs would be given to members of Other Backward Classes.

Let’s analyse and look back through the decades to see how the recommendations of the Mandal Commission or the second backward class communication were received and the current status of reservation of OBCs in the country.


  • Thirty years ago, on 7 August 1990, Vishwanath Pratap Singh, the prime minister at the time, announced that Other Backward Classes (OBCs) would get 27 per cent reservation in jobs in central government services and public sector units.
  • The announcement was made before both Houses of Parliament.
  • The decision was based on a report submitted on 31 December 1980 that recommended reservations for OBCsnot just in government jobs but also central education institutions.
  • The recommendation was made by the Mandal Commission, which was set up in 1979 under the Morarji Desai government and chaired by P. Mandal.

    Quick history of ‘Reservation’ in India

    • The history of reservation for the backward castes goes back to 1902 when Shahu Maharaj, the ruler of the princely state of Kolhapur, reserved 50% jobs for backward castes (all communities except forward groups such as Brahmins, Prabhus, Shenvis and Parsis).
    • When India’s Constitution came into force in 1950, the question of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes was already settled.
    • But what is meant by backward classes and who should be included in this category were questions that remained mired in controversy for decades.
    • The Jawaharlal Nehru government set up a backward classes commission in 1953, which drew up a list of 2,399 communities listing them as backward.
    • But the government did not act on this report.
    • Today, reservation is provided in central government posts and services to-
      • Scheduled Castes- 15%
      • Scheduled Tribes- 7.5%
      • Other Backward Classes- 27%
      • Economically Weaker Sections- 10%
        • The Government recently introduced EWS Reservation. 10% quota is provided for the Economically Weaker Sections (EWS)among General Category candidates in government jobs and educational institutions.
        • This is done by adding clauses for the same in the Indian Constitution (103rd Constitution Amendment Act, 2019).


What happened back then?

  • In 1979, it was the Morarji Desai government which set up the Mandal Commission to identify socially or educationally backward classes to address caste discrimination.
  • It was chaired by B.P. Mandal, who was once the Bihar chief minister.
  • The Commission recommended that members of OBCs be given 27 per cent reservations for jobs under the Central government and public sector undertakings.
  • This would take the total number of reservations for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes to 49 per cent.
  • The recommendation for OBC reservations in central government institutions was finally implemented in 1992 while the education quota came into force in 2006.

First Backward Class Commission

  • In January 1953, the government had set up the First Backward Class Commission under the chairman of social reformer Kaka Kalelkar.
  • The commission submitted its report in March 1955, listing 2,399 backward castes or communities, with 837 of them classified as ‘most backwards’.
  • The report was never implemented.

Major recommendations of the Mandal Commission

  • Using 11 indicators – social, educational and economic – the commission identified 3,743 different castes and communities as members of Other Backward Classes.
  • The OBC Category, it estimated, comprised 52 percent of the total population.
  • Among its key recommendations were a 27 percent reservation in government jobs, schools and colleges – a quota also applicable to promotions at all levels.
  • Meanwhile, the reserved quota that remained vacant was to be carried forward for a period of three years and de-reserved thereafter.
  • Many of the OBCs mentioned in the list were the ‘occupation’ castes – Dhobi, Lohar, Teli, etc. The OBC status also varied from region to region.
  • While the Banias were on the OBC list in Bihar, they were left off the list in other states; Similarly, Jats were marked OBC only in Rajasthan.
  • The Mandal Commission had also recommended land redistribution and change in relations of production. 

What turned into anti-Mandal?

  • Soon after announcement of the recommendations, protests rocked the country.
  • Many students took to the streets, holding dharnas and blocking roads. These evolved into anti-Mandal protests, which took an ugly turn in September 1990 when Delhi University student from Deshbandhu College, Rajeev Goswami, self-immolated.
  • Goswami became the face of the anti-Mandal movement at that point.

Criticism of the Report

  • Outdated base year: One of the biggest criticisms of the Mandal Commission report was that it was based on a 1931 census – which was carried out when India was still under British rule.
  • Ignored socio-political transformation: The report was also criticised for failing to take into account the socio-political transformation that had taken place among many of these communities.
  • Opportunistic: VP Singh was accused of indulging in opportunism and was criticised for picking only reservation – the most populist of all measures in the Mandal commission report – over other important recommendations, like the one aimed at altering the land-tenurial system, among other economic and educational reforms.

Mandal Challenged in Supreme Court

  • The Mandal Commission report also battled several legal cases.
  • The Court, in its judgment in the case of Indira Sawhney vs Union of India, delivered in 1992, upheld the 27 percent reservation for OBCs subject to the exclusion of socially-advanced persons/sections (creamy layer) from amongst the OBCs and directed the government to evolve a criteria for the identification of this creamy layer.
  • A committee was appointed to address the issue.
    • The recommendations were accepted and circulated among all ministries/departments of the Central and state governments in September 1993, bringing reservations for the OBC community into force.

When the OBC ‘creamy layer’ came into being?

  • To ensure that benefits of the recommendations of the Mandal Commission percolated down to the most backward communities, the creamy layer criteria was invoked in the popularly known Supreme Court ruling called the ‘Indira Sawhney Judgment’.
  • It was delivered by the nine-judge bench on the Mandal Commission report in November 1992.
    • Under the present rules, a household with an annual income of Rs 8 lakh or above would be classified as belonging to the ‘creamy layer’ among OBCs and therefore, would not be eligible for reservations.

What are the impacts of the recommendations today?

  • After year, there pertains gross inequity in how the benefits of the reservations are enjoyed by different communities within the OBC.
  • Unfilled vacancies: A parliamentary panel on the Welfare of OBCs had in its February 2019 report noted that in spite of four revisions of the income criteria since 1997, the 27 per cent vacancies reserved in favour of OBCs were not being filled up.
  • Poor occupancy level in central govt ministries: The committee said the data received from 78 ministries and departments regarding representation of OBCs in the posts and services of the central government as on 1 March 2016 reflected poor OBC occupancy levels in central government ministries.
  • Maximum number are in Group C jobs: According to this government data, of the 32.58 lakh government employees (which includes Group A, B, C), the number of those from OBCs are 7 lakh — 21 per cent of the quota as against 27 per cent. The maximum number of OBCs — 6.4 lakh or 22.65 per cent — are employed in Group C, which comprises mainly the safai karamcharis, e., the sanitation department staff.

Rohini Commission

  • To address these anomalies, the government constituted a four-member commission headed by retired Delhi High Court Chief Justice G. Rohini in 2017. The committee’s mandate was to look into the issue of sub categorisation within OBCs.
  • Their mandate also included looking into how the 27 per cent reservation for OBCs in jobs and education was being implemented and if all categories of OBCs were benefitting from it.
  • The Commission found that out of almost 6,000 castes and communities in the OBCs, only 40 such communities had gotten 50 per cent of reservation benefits for admission in central educational institutions and recruitment to the civil services.
  • The panel further foundthat close to 20 per cent of OBC communities did not get a quota benefit from 2014 to 2018.
  • The commission’s tenure was recently extended until January 2021 to complete its study.


The last few lost decades did immense harm to OBCs. They remain severely under-represented in government jobs and the corridors of power, and, after the promising start of the 1990s, their political representation, too, has weakened. On the 30th anniversary of the Mandal movement, it is hoped that it will give a positive fillip to the deteriorating situation.


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