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Income can't be sole basis to decide 'creamy layer': SC

  • Category
    Polity & Governance
  • Published
    1st Sep, 2021


The Supreme Court has stood firmly by its principle that economic criterion alone cannot be the sole basis for identifying a Backward Class member as “creamy layer”. Other factors like social advancement, education, employment too.


  • The top court passed its judgement while striking down a 2016 notification of the Haryana government to deny benefits of reservation to those among the backward classes with an annual earning of Rs 6 lakh and above.  
  • It directed the Haryana government to bring about out a fresh notification to determine ‘creamy layer’ among the other backward classes (OBCs) within three months by considering social backwardness and other factors, in addition to the economic criterion.  
  • It pointed out that the Supreme Court’s judgment in Indra Sawhney case (Mandal Commission case) (1992) has clearly laid down that social, economic and other factors have to be taken into account for the purpose of determining the ‘creamy layer’ within a backward class and then exclude them from quota benefits.


Key-highlights of the SC Verdict

  • Haryana's notifications have violated the law declared in the Indra Sawhney judgment by identifying creamy layer only on the basis of income.
    • The Supreme Court has set aside the notification specifying the criteria for exclusion of ‘Creamy Layer’ within the backward classes issued by the State of Haryana. 
  • The SC held that the government cannot deny reservation to a person belonging to a backward community solely on the ground that he or she is rich.
  • The court went to the extent of determining “creamy layer” among Backward Classes. 
  • The judgment held that persons from the classes who occupied posts in higher services like IAS, IPS and All India Services had reached a higher level of social advancement and economic status, and therefore, were not entitled to be treated as backward. Such persons were to be treated as “creamy layer” without any further inquiry.
    • People with sufficient income who were in a position to provide employment to others should also be taken to have reached a higher social status and therefore, should be treated as outside the backward class.

Understanding India’s reservation Policy

  • The reservation policy is an age-old policy being practiced in India. 
  • Its origin has its roots scattered from the ancient times when the practice of ‘untouchability’, caste system and Varna system was dominant in the society. 
  • Deprivation is only one measure of caste discrimination in India. 
  • Reservations for the SCs and STs were put in place in the Indian constitution, immediately after independence, as a means to recognise the historical injustice meted out to these groups and to implement provisions by which groups would have better access to resources and opportunities that were hitherto denied to them.

Current scenario of Reservation

  • The Supreme Court ruling that reservations cannot exceed 50% (which it judged would violate equal access guaranteed by the Constitution) has put a cap on reservations. 
  • The current scenario of Reservation in India is:
    • 15% seats are reserved for Scheduled Castes (SC).
    • 5% seats are reserved for Scheduled tribes (ST).
    • 27% seats are reserved for Other backward classes (OBC).

Brief history about reservations:

Reservation Policy in Pre- Independence Era: 

  • Government India Act, 1919: The Government India Act, 1919 not only introduced several reforms for the Indian Governmental institutions but also addressed many issues of minorities including the formation of communal electorates.
  • Government of India Act, 1935: The stamping of the provisions of the Poona Pact, 1932 were done in the Government of India Act of 1935 where reservation of seats for depressed classes was allotted.

Post- Independence Era:

  • First Commission:
    • In January 1953, the government had set up the First Backward Class Commission, which submitted its report in March 1955.
    • It listed 2,399 backward castes or communities, with 837 of them classified as ‘most backwards’.
    • The report was never implemented.
  • Second Commission or Mandal Commission: 
  • Mandal Commission was set up in 1978 (Chairman being B.P. Mandal) to assess the situation of the socially and educationally backward Classes (SEBC).
  • It recommended- 
    • 27% reservation for OBC candidates at all levels of its services. With the implementation of the report, OBC or Other Backward Classes made its way into the lexicon of India’s social justice movement.

Criteria to identify OBC:

  • The Mandal Commission adopted various methods and techniques to collect the necessary data and evidence. 
    • The commission adopted 11 criteria which could be grouped under three major headings : social, educational and economic in order to identify OBCs.
      • All the Social indicators were given a weightage of 3 points each.
      • Educational indicators were given a weightage of 2 points each.
      • Economic indicators were given a weightage of 1 point each.
    • It will be seen from the values given to each indicator, the total score adds up to 22. All these 11 indicators were applied to all the castes.
    • All castes which had a score of 50 % (i.e. 11 points) were listed as socially and educationally backward and the rest were treated as ‘advanced’. 

What is the creamy layer concept?

  • The term ‘creamy layer’ is used to refer to some members of a backward class who are highly advanced socially as well as economically and educationally.
  • They constitute the forward section of that particular backward class – as forward as any other forward class member.
  • Currently, annual family income above ?8 lakh are considered the ‘creamy layer’ and excluded from reservation benefits given to OBCs.

Important Committees and Commissions:

  • Hunter Commissions(1882)
  • Kelkar Commission(1953)
  • Sachar Committee (2003)


Reservation aims to see that backward classes of citizen move forward to bring equality in the country. However, this cannot be possible if only the creamy layer gets all the benefits and bag all the coveted jobs themselves, leaving the rest of the class as backward as they always were.

Therefore, there is need for revision of the income criteria for determining the creamy layer” among the OBCs “is under consideration”.


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