While the states and regional parties have been vocal in demanding the removal of the 50 per cent caste quota, the BJP has remained tight-lipped over the issue.
The recently concluded Monsoon session of Parliament saw opposition parties corner the government over the 50 per cent reservation ceiling after the Supreme Court quashed Maratha reservation and the Centre’s announcement of 27 per cent quota for Other Backward Classes (OBC) and 10 per cent reservation for economically weaker sections (EWC) candidates in the All India Quota (AIQ) in medical and dental courses. Reservation has been a key poll plank of the political parties be it in Haryana, Maharashtra, Bihar or Punjab. The government also passed the Constitution (127th) Amendment Bill in Parliament to restore the states’ power to make their own OBC lists. However, the opposition parties urged the government to bring a bill to remove the 50 per cent quota ceiling as set by the Supreme Court of India. Reacting to the demand for removal of 50 per cent quota cap, Social Justice and Empowerment minister Virendra Kumar said the courts have time and again emphasised the 50 per cent ceiling and there is a need to give attention to the constitutional aspects. The minister had also noted that if the OBC lists of states were removed, nearly 671 communities would be deprived of getting the reservation benefits.
What is the 50 per cent reservation cap?
In 1980, the B.P. Mandal-led Second Backward Classes Committee, often called the Mandal Commission, had recommended 27% reservation for OBCs and 22.5% for the Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes. In 1990, the Congress government had granted 27 per cent reservation for Socially and Educationally Backward Classes. The move led to a massive protest and was challenged in the apex court. In 1991, the Congress government issued another notification providing an additional reservation of 10 per cent for other economically backward sections. However, the 27% quota (as per Mandal commission) was upheld by the Supreme Court while the court quashed the 10 per cent quota based on economic criteria. The court also observed that a backward class cannot be determined exclusively based on economic criteria and noted that backward classes could be identified based on castes. The court also ruled that total reservation provided under different categories must not cross the 50 per cent limit. The court had also asked the government to separate creamy layers suitably.
Why does Opposition wants Modi government to quash the 50% ceiling?
While reservation was initially meant for the upliftment of backward castes, over time it has become more of a poll plank. Many states want to increase the reservation ceiling in order to provide benefits to more castes. Tamil Nadu already provides 69 per cent reservation and the same has been challenged in the Supreme Court. Congress MP Abhishek Manu Singhvi had demanded in Parliament that a caste-based census should be conducted as the 50 per cent quota limit for backward classes has already been exceeded in 30 states and Union Territories. He said that while there is a 17 per cent job quota for the backward classes, their percentage population is higher. Singhvi claimed the government fears that if a caste-based census is done, the reservation might go up from 22 per cent to 35 per cent.
The states want to decide the reservation quota themselves based on the unique structure of their populations based on different castes. It has been almost three decades since the SC verdict fixing the upper limit of the reservation ceilings and the states argue that the social circumstances of many states have changed over time with the growth of population among different communities.
While the states and regional parties have been vocal in demanding the removal of the 50 per cent caste quota, the BJP has remained tight-lipped over the issue. Primarily because while it enjoys support from the OBC community, the party’s strong vote bank also comes from the general category. Now, if the 50 per cent reservation ceiling is demolished through legislation, it will certainly be detrimental for the general category. The Modi government came up with the reservation of the Economically Weaker Section to provide reservation benefits to poor from general category and that too without touching the maximum quota ceiling as set by the top court. Since now the states have got the power to make their own OBC list, the demand for legislation to remove the 50 per cent upper limit will be more strong in coming years.