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Supreme Court upholds EWS quota in 3-2 split verdict

  • Published
    8th 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 is for economic 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.
Summarising 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 Uday Umesh Lalit concurred with the minority view of Justice Bhat.

Majority view

Dissenting View

  • According to the majority 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 the purpose of reservation in jobs under Article 16.
  • Element of exclusion: However, 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 Rs8 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.
  • Those exempted from filing I-T returns are only those with taxable income below Rs2.5 lakh, it makes no sense to extend the reservation benefits to sections earning up to Rs8 lakh.
  • Also, the majority view that the 50% ceiling is applicable only to caste-based quotas and not for EWS reservations is constitutionally unsustainable.

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 educational institutions can create confusion.
  • Unavailability of Data regarding Income, property, etc. for the real beneficiaries.
  • Can be misused by a group of people using illegal documents and means
  • Needs adequate structure in the decentralized form to acquire details of the group for inclusion.
Required Measures
  • Including the other sections under income-based reservations: The objective of economic emancipation could have been better achieved if the income-based reservation had been thrown open to all sections of society.
  • Addressing the Competitive nature in Jobs and Exams: There exists a fear that some sections may corner a large share of the reservation and had earlier been partially addressed by the ‘creamy layer’ norm for backward classes, but it also meant that the well-off among them will have to compete in open competition.
  • Identification for the real beneficiary: The Government should consider both opening up the EWS quota to all communities and keeping the income criterion much lower than the ceiling.
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