Did Jats and Patels deserve a reservation

What is the OBC advertising about, one contingent at a time

Last week the government had given indications of its plans to reintroduce legislation granting constitutional status to the NCBC in the upcoming winter session of Parliament.

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In the run-up to the crucial Gujarat polls this December, the Union government announced a series of measures aimed at promoting the Other Backward Classes (OBC), particularly the non-dominant OBC communities. Observers point out the movement appears to be at strengthening a voter base among the OBCs while at the same time undermining the regional parties that have large following in the ruling OBC communities. But there is a lot more to the political debate about these measures.

Last week, the government had given indications of its plans to reintroduce constitutional legislation to the National Backward Classes Commission (NCBC) in the upcoming winter session of Parliament. The Constitution (One Hundred and Twenty-Third Amendment) Bill, 2017 aims to put the NCBC on par with the National Commission on Registered Caste (NCSC) and the National Commission on Scheduled Tribes (NCST).

At the last meeting there was a deadlock in the Rajya Sabha on the opposition bill, which succeeded in voting in the significant changes to reserve seats for women and minority members in the new commission. However, the change was dropped by the government and the rest of the bill was passed without this.

The proposed legislation to empower the NCBC, which is currently a mere advisory role, when it comes to inclusion or exclusion from a community in the central list of OBCs. The act gives the NCBC powers on par with the civil court to issue summons, investigate all matters relating to the welfare and development of OBCs, and investigate complaints about non-booking in workplaces and educational institutions.

Significantly, the bill also gives parliament the final authority to make changes to the OBC list - which means that parliament now gets to decide on issues relating to the Jats, Marathas, Patels, Kapus and the many other communities who were stirring up for inclusion on the OBC list.

Besides, an important definition of those involved changed. In August this year, the union cabinet approved the proposal to change the income definition of the "creamy layer" within OBCs, increasing from those earning Rs 6 lakh per year to Rs 8 lakh per year. According to the Supreme Court's guideline in the Indra Sawhney and Others vs. Union of India case (1993), the creamy layer of OBCs (relatively better sections) cannot benefit from the reservation facilities. Then the yield criteria will be Rs 1 lakh per year. The last time the "creamy layer" ceiling was revised, from Rs 4.5 lakh in 2008, was in 2013 when it rose to Rs 6 lakh per year.

Also in August of this year the cabinet approved the setting up of a commission to examine the sub-categorization of 5,000, -odd boxes in the central OBC list. The panel was asked to submit reports within 12 weeks from the date of the appointment of the chairman of the commission. The appointment for Justice (a.d.) G have made Rohini head of the commission, much later, on October 2, giving the five-man time until early January to come to with his report. The commission was established under Article 340 of the Constitution. It is under this article that the Mandal Commission was appointed that recommended 27 percent reservation for socially and educationally backward classes. The new commission's job is to sub-categorize all castes in the central OBC list in order to allow a “fairer distribution” of opportunities in central government, jobs and educational institutions. There will also be a scientific methodology for performing the classification exercise.

Currently a total of eleven states and / or EU territories have a sub-categorization of OBCs for their government services, including Tamil Nadu, Puducherry, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Haryana, Jharkhand, Bihar, West Bengal, and Maharashtra Jammu. However, larger states like Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, where more advanced OBCs like the Yadavs and Kurmis, corner most of the benefits and political influence involved, are not secured sub-quotas for the extremely backward classes.

Interestingly, this is not the first time that such a proposal for quotas within a quota has been put up for discussion. The former NCBC, as well as a Parliamentary Standing Committee, had recommended such a sub-classification. In fact, in its March 2, 2015 report, the former NCBC under Justice V. Eswaraiah had asked the union government for its immediate vigorous commitment to the nationwide exercise with the help of an expert panel such as the Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR). The NCBC noted that it is necessary to ensure "an equitable distribution among the various backward classes to avoid lumping so that one or two such classes don't eat away the entire quota while the other backward classes are high and dry". The NCBC asked for an "in principle" approval for its methodology. But the union government got a reputation for being two and a half years later.

But the NCBC had suggested a methodology. Notes that individuals with an unequal status are no longer treated equally and action is needed to bring them on par with the advanced classes that the NCBC had asked for sub-categorization within the OBC category, in Extremely Backward Classes (Group 'A'), More backward classes (Group 'B') and Backward classes (Group 'C').

This methodology was based on the categorization in Andhra Pradesh referred to by the Supreme Court of Andhra Pradesh and Others vs. U.S. V. Balram (1972) and Indra Sawhney And Others vs. Union Of India (1993) cases. According to the "EBC" in group A, the Aboriginal tribes, the denotified tribes or vimukta Jati, nomadic and semi-nomadic tribes. Group B was made up of professional groups, such as blacksmiths, brass, blacksmiths, various types of weavers, carpenters, etc., and Group C was made up of those OBC individuals who came from agricultural or business communities. The NCBC in its report referred to a similar classification made by nine states and / or EU territories. For example, Puducherry classifies its 76 OBC parishes into five categories, two of which are down-grade Muslims and down-grade tribes. Of the 33% reservations for OBCs, Bihar has kept three percent for OBC women. And Tamil Nadu, which has the highest reservations for OBCs at 50%, 3.5% for backward-class Muslims, and 20% for most backward classes and denotified communities.

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