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Supreme Court upholds EWS quota in 3-2 split verdict

Published: 10th Nov, 2022

Context

The Supreme Court Constitution Bench has by a 3:2 majority upheld the validity of the 103rd Constitutional Amendment which introduced a 10% reservation for Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) in education and public employment.

What were the major issues in front of the apex court?

There were three main issues in the case:

  1. Whether the 103rd Constitution Amendment is violative of the basic structure for providing reservation solely based on economic criteria.
  2. Whether the amendment is violative of the basic structure for excluding the poor among the SC/ST/OBC categories from EWS Quota.
  3. Whether the amendment is violative of the basic structure for breaching the 50% ceiling limit.

EWS Quota:

  • The 10% EWS quota was introduced under the 103rd Constitution (Amendment) Act, 2019 by amending Articles 15 and 16.
    • It inserted Article 15 (6) and Article 16 (6).
  • It provides for reservation in jobs and admissions in educational institutes for Economically Weaker Sections (EWS).
  • It was enacted to promote the welfare of the poor not covered by the 50% reservation policy for Scheduled Castes (SCs), Scheduled Tribes (STs), and socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBC).
  • It enables both the Centre and the States to provide reservations to the EWS of society.

Summarizing the Verdict:

While Justices Dinesh Maheshwari, Bela Trivedi, and JB Pardiwala upheld the 103rd Constitution Amendment, Justice S Ravindra Bhat wrote a dissenting judgment to strike it down. Chief Justice of India U.U Lalit concurred with the minority view of Justice Bhat.

Majority view

Dissenting View

  • The amendment is not violative of the basic structure on any of the above issues.



  • Against the Fundamental Concept of the Constitution: Economic criteria can be used to provide reservation in education under Article 15 but not for reservation in jobs under Article 16.
  • Element of Exclusion: By excluding the poor among SC/ST/OBC from economically backward classes (on the ground that they have enjoyed benefits), the 103rd Amendment practices constitutionally prohibited forms of discrimination.
  • Reservation cannot be used as a poverty alleviation measure.

What are the existing Income based Mismatches in the Law?

  • The existing income criterion of ?8 lakh a year has already been questioned by the Court in a separate case, as it is liable to result in excessive coverage of socially advanced classes.
  • When those exempted from filing I-T returns are only those with taxable income below ?2.5 lakh, it makes no sense to extend the reservation benefits to sections earning up to ?8 lakh.

Impacts

Consequences

  • Recognition of the Economic Backwards
  • Societal movement from Caste-Based to Class based society.
  • Addresses Inequality and equity (giving according to the needs).
  • Vagueness in the criteria and several State based provisions related to jobs and admission in an educational institution can create confusion.
  • The unavailability of Data regarding Income, property etc. can make the identification of the real beneficiaries difficult.
  • Can be misused by a group of people using illegal documents and means.

Required Measures:

  • Including other sections under Income-based reservations: It would better serve the objective of economic emancipation of other sections of society.
  • Identification for the real beneficiary: The Government should make clear guidelines to identify economic backwardness and identify the beneficiaries of the EWS quota.

Verifying, please be patient.

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