The report of three-member Commission for Economically Backward Classes, also known as the Sinho Commission report of 2010 which formed the basis of the government’s constitution amendment bill, never explicitly recommended a reservation for Economically Weaker Sections (EWS), as per a report in Indian Express. At the same time, the Commission’s report laid emphasis on ensuring that the EWS get access to all the welfare schemes.
Noting that economic criteria cannot be an indicator for identifying the backward classes for reservation, the Sinho Commission’s report of 2010 asserted that Economically Weaker Sections can be identified by states “for extending welfare measures only”. “The Commission gathers the Constitutional and legal understanding that Backward Classes cannot be identified for providing reservation in employment and admission in educational institutions on the basis of economic criteria and hence Economically Backward Classes (EBCs) can be identified by the State for extending welfare measures only,” The Indian Express reported, quoting one of the report’s chapters that reviews the history of attempts to extend reservation to EWS.
Moreover, the report said that “in order to provide any quantum of reservation to them (EBCs) two essential aspects need to be considered”. Firstly, the report notes, the economic backwardness needs to be combined with social and educational backwardness for the purpose of reservation. The second aspect of the report notes that the 50 per cent upper limit for reservation is binding on the State until the Supreme Court gives a different direction or a Constitutional amendment is made.
The Commission reiterated the same points in its final recommendations where it notes that “reservation in Indian context is a form of affirmative action.. for socially and educationally backward classes of citizens”. Headed by Major Gen (retd) S R Sinho, the commission was instituted by the UPA government and had submitted its report in July 2010.
The Constitution (One Hundred and Twenty-Fourth Amendment) Bill, 2019 for granting 10 per cent EWS reservation on Wednesday was swiftly passed in both the houses – Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha – within two days. Rajya Sabha passed the bill on Wednesday, a day after Lok Sabha passed it.
Years before bringing the legislation, PM Narendra Modi-led NDA government had reiterated the Commission’s stand with regard to reservation for EWS in a Parliament reply in March 2015. “The Commission for Economically Backward Classes (CEBC) which submitted its Report to the Government on 22nd July, 2010 did not recommend the reservation for Economically Backward Classes,” Jitendra Singh, Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office, had stated in a written reply to a question by Lok Sabha MP from BJP Poonamben Maadam on whether the government proposed to give reservation in government jobs to EWS persons. The minister also cited Supreme Court’s landmark Indra Sawhney order in his reply to state that “economic backwardness cannot be the sole criterion for providing reservation”.
Modi government had referred to the Sinho Commission report in its official version on the floor of the House before the legislation was passed by Rajya Sabha on Wednesday. It stated that the 2010 report recommended reservation to the EWS. It also mentioned that the chairperson and two members of the Commission had stated in the report how they travelled across the country, consulted most state governments before taking their decision.
On the stand of the states, the Commission, however, notes in its report: “The Commission obtained views of states/UTs on quantum of reservation and with the single exception of Rajasthan, most of the states have not framed any conclusive opinion about reservation to EBCs among General Category.” It may be pointed out here that Rajasthan government had in 2009 issued a notification for granting 14 per cent EWS reservation which was later set aside by the High Court.
According to the Indian Express, the report further asserted that while all states were non-committal about EWS reservation, there was “remarkable unanimity on the issues of extending welfare measures to the EBCs among GCs” (general category).
Further, the Sinho Commission consulted the National Commission for Minorities and the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes. Both the commissions held that economic status fluctuates and hence reservation, which was brought in to undo historic injustice, is not the solution, adding that what is required is proper implementation of poverty alleviation schemes.
The Sinho Commission also recommended instating welfare measures for EWS including easy access to existing schemes in the areas of housing, healthcare, sanitation, skill development. It also recommended ensuring that EWS women in General Category avail jobs under NREGA and such children get special scholarships to pursue their education.
In order to provide immediate relief for the 5.85 crore EWS population (about 1 crore families as per NSSO 2004-05 data) in General Category, the Sinho Commission also recommended that the Union government should announce an initial relief package of Rs 10,000 crore at the rate of Rs 10,000 per family till the time a formal budgetary mechanism is created to launch dedicated welfare measures.