The government is being clever by half in opposing the concept of ‘creamy layer’ when it comes to SC/ST reservations. It has argued, in the Supreme Court, that as per the Mandal judgment, the concept really applies to OBC reservations, not SC/ST. The petition in the Supreme Court, by the Samta Andolan Samiti that represents poor and downtrodden SC/ST in Rajasthan, does not dispute the origins of the concept of ‘creamy layer’, it just wants this to be applied to SC/ST as well.
If a rich OBC is seen as someone who should no longer be eligible for the same reservations available to a poor OBC, surely the same logic should apply to SC/ST as well? The government can argue that the Constitution does not mandate any such division into rich and poor SC/ST, but if the Constitution was such a holy book, it wouldn’t have been amended 101 times since 1950. And, if the government is going to go by the Constitution, it would do well to note that the founding fathers wanted the SC/ST reservation for just 10 years, but this was extended from time to time by an amendment to the Constitution.
And, to quote the old example, if a Jagjivan Ram’s daughter can avail of reservations, there is something clearly wrong in the scheme. And if, like last year, the government decided that OBCs who are working in PSUs will no longer qualify for reservations, not applying this to SC/ST implies that the benefits will always be cornered by the better off SC/STs.
Indeed, in M Nagaraj (2006) that dealt with reservations in promotions for SC/ST, the Supreme Court ruled that while the government was free to mandate this, “the State will have to see that its reservation provision does not lead to excessiveness so as to breach the ceiling-limit of 50% or obliterate the creamy layer or extend the reservation indefinitely.”
Some facts from the PRICE all-India income and expenditure survey need to be kept in mind by the Supreme Court. According to PRICE, around 6% of SC households (that’s 4 million households) earn between Rs 5-10 lakh a year and 7% (5 million) earn over Rs 10 lakh. In the case of ST households, 11% (3 million) earn between Rs 5-10 lakh and 5% (1 million) earn over Rs 10 lakh (see graphic). According to the latest definition put out by the central government, OBCs who earn more than Rs 8 lakh are considered to be ‘creamy layer’ and, therefore, ineligible for reservation benefits. Based on the PRICE survey, if 22 million OBC households are ‘creamy layer’, 13 million SC/ST households are also “creamy layer”, using the income definition.
If completion of college is considered to be a cut-off, as it should, the number of households in the ‘creamy layer’ is roughly similar. Using this cut-off seems logical since, once a household has used a reservation to get into college, there is really no justification for that family to get the reservation for future generations. Ideally, once reservation is given for college, it should not be given for jobs, but even if you let that be, surely the reservation in jobs cannot be in perpetuity—that is, person A gets a job through reservations, then his daughter gets it, and her daughter after that … While 19% of OBC households fall in this category of graduates and above (23 million), it is 14% for SCs (9 million) and 11% for STs (3 million).
Indeed, education seems a better cut-off than just income since it is education more than caste that determines income levels. So, in 2016, according to PRICE, income levels of SC households rose from Rs 90,285 per year to Rs 138,152, when the head of the family completed primary school as compared to when he was illiterate. As the head completed matriculation, the income rose to Rs 186,592, and to Rs 223,356 if he completed school. This applies to all caste groups.
And, interestingly, an upper caste illiterate household’s earning of Rs 93,756 per year was a third lower than an SC household’s if the head had completed even primary school. An upper caste household, where the head had completed just primary school, earned Rs 148,018 as compared to an SC household’s Rs 186,592 if the head had matriculated … A upper caste household whose head had completed school earned Rs 264,818 as compared to Rs 303,680 for an SC household headed by a graduate.
Postscript: Since everyone seems to be justifying reservations by referring to the Constitution, keep in mind Article 335 that deals with it says “The claims of the members of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes shall be taken into consideration, consistently with the maintenance of efficiency of administration, in the making of appointments to services and posts in connection with the affairs of the Union or of a State”. When is the last time the government did an exercise to see if “efficiency of administration” hadn’t been compromised? And, in the case of teachers in schools/colleges, the yardstick has to be quality of the teaching, not efficiency of administration—given the multitude of teacher-tests, surely scoring should be done to see if quality has been given the go-by? Perhaps, that should be the subject of a future PIL.