The Modi government’s much-touted 10 per cent quota for the Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) for the upper caste may end up being a damp squib for many of its early supporters. Hailed as a masterstroke by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to arrest the disgruntlement of many upper caste voters, the move has ended up disappointing many. It has now been confirmed that the newly-implemented quota will not offer any relaxations in age limit or the number of attempts for a candidate under the 10 per cent upper caste reservation.
The Centre, responding to a specific query on relaxation in age and number of attempts, has confirmed that there is no such provision for the relaxations under the current rules. The Centre further informed that no such proposal was under consideration at the moment. Last month, a civil services aspirant wrote to the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) seeking clarification on age and number of attempts under the reservation for upper caste poor.
In a response to the grievance, Deputy Secretary G Srinivasan said: “Presently, no proposal under consideration for providing age relaxation and the number of attempts for EWS candidates under new reservation policy formulated by the government.” His response shattered the expectations of lakhs of UPSC aspirants who were hoping for some relaxation in age and attempts after the new reservation was announced.
In fact, the very first job notification issued by the Staff Selection Commission (SSC) following the implementation of 10 per cent EWS quota did not offer any age relaxation. In its recruitment notice for Junior Engineers dated February 1, the Commission has offered age relaxation for other reservation beneficiaries such as OBC and SC/STs but not to EWS candidates.
The Financial Express Online reached out to the DoPT for clarification on why the SSC offered relaxation to OBCs but not to the candidates coming under EWS. The Commission responded saying: “The SSC is a recruiting agency and makes recruitment as per DoP&T Guidelines. The facility of reservation for Economically Weaker Sections in direct recruitment in civil posts and services in the Government of India has been kept…as per DoP&T order.”
The DoPT in its 19-page office memorandum dated January 31 has made no mention of relaxation in terms of age and number of attempts. That itself confirms that all the recruiting agencies such as UPSC and SSC that come under DoPT will go by this office memorandum and therefore will not offer any age and attempt relaxation.
Dejected and furious, job aspirants are wondering why the government has not extended the benefits that are a genuine extension of reservation benefits. “I fail to understand the possible reasons why there is no age and attempts relaxation which is an ideal and genuine extension of benefit in the reservation. Poverty is the biggest hindrance in our country to complete one’s education on time and to settle down in career and life. In the reservation benefit to the poor, it is rational to provide a cushion of relaxed norms through age and attempts so that all eligible job aspirants can avail the benefit,” UPSC aspirant MS Ram who hails from Andhra Pradesh said.
Ram demanded immediate announcement of age relaxation and said: “The government or the ministry has not officially provided any reasons till now for not providing the age and attempts relaxation. If the government is sincere with EWS reservation, the ministry of Personnel must immediately announce the relaxation or at least release the official statement with reasons for not providing. Otherwise, it must be seen as an insensitive and disgraceful political stunt to manipulate the EWS for the sake of votes in the coming elections.”
Academic and senior fellow at CSDS Yogendra Yadav called the whole upper caste reservation a ‘hoax’. He said: “Now, two things come out of this — first, it shows there wasn’t much thinking and the government had not thought of this issue. And second, it is not for the poor. Given the limit that they have set, the people who would qualify are not poor at all. In Rs 8 lakh income limit, about 90 per cent of people from general categories would qualify. So if they are not poor, there is no need of age relaxation.”
He, however, argues that if the limit had been set at Rs 2.5 lakh income, then it would have been appropriate to extend other benefits – age and attempts – to such people because they have a late academic start. “But it is a political gesture. The whole reservation is a hoax. It’s a joke,” Yadav said.
Former Chief Justice of India KG Balakrishnan says that Rs 8 lakh income limit is for OBCs and the government cannot bring it down because it has to observe parity. So when an OBC candidate having an income of Rs 8 lakh can get age relaxation, then why not EWS? The former CJI says: “Technically, there should be no discrimination if the yardsticks are same. The government will have to explain if it is challenged in the court. Age relaxation for such candidates is possible legally as the yardsticks are the same for both — OBC and EWS.”
Explaining as to who would qualify for the reservation, the DoPT in its memorandum states: “Persons who are not covered under the scheme of reservation for SCs, STs and OBCs and whose family has (a) gross annual income below Rs 8 lakh only is to be identified as EWS for benefit of reservation. Income shall also include income from all sources i.e. salary, agriculture, business, profession, etc. for the financial year prior to the year of application.”