10% Reservation for EWS and Social Justice
Search 13th March, 2019 Spotlight news analysis here: http://www.newsonair.com/Main_Audio_Bulletins_Search.aspx
General studies 2
- Mechanisms, laws, institutions and Bodies constituted for the protection and betterment of these vulnerable sections.
- Parliament and State Legislatures, structure, functioning, conduct of business, powers & privileges and issues arising out of these
In News: The BJP-led government has tabled a constitutional amendment bill to provide 10 per cent reservation in jobs and higher education to economically backward sections among the upper castes – ‘the economically weaker sections of citizens have largely remained excluded from attending the higher educational institutions and public employment on account of their financial incapacity to compete with the persons who are economically more privileged’.
The Union Cabinet has approved the Constitution (One Hundred and Twenty Fourth Amendment) Bill. Now that it has been passed in the Lower House, the Bill will be moved in the Rajya Sabha.
The government move comes in the backdrop of an upper caste backlash against the Modi government’s decision against the Supreme Court’s attempt at ring-fencing apprehensions of misuse of the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act.
The Supreme Court move had sparked nation-wide protests from Dalit groups across the country after which the government brought a legislation in the last monsoon session to nullify the SC order.
Why: The Bill needs to be passed by a special majority of two-thirds of members present in each House, not less than half the strength in both. Following this, it will have to be ratified by at least half of the state legislatures. It will also have to face legal challenges if any.
The Constitution 124th Amendment Bill
The bill has to be a constitutional amendment as it overshoots the Supreme Court’s 50% cap on quotas and takes the total to 60%. Any increase from that limit will be subject to judicial scrutiny.
Amended two fundamental rights:
- Article 15, which prohibits discrimination on the grounds of race, religion, caste, sex or place of birth
- Article 16 which prohibits discrimination in employment in government office
The amendment provides for the advancement of the “economically weaker sections” of the society.
It also makes a note of the Article 46, which asks the government to promote the educational and economic interests of the weaker sections of the society.
Who comes under the “Economically Weaker Sections”?
- People who have an annual income of less than Rs.8 lakhs, or
- People who own less than five acres of farm land, or
- People who have a house lesser than 1,000 sq feet in a town (or 100 sq yard in a notified municipal area).
The latest amendment giving reservation to the poor has done away with the constitutionally permitted gatekeeping mechanism of social and educational backwardness and opened up reservation to everyone — irrespective of social backwardness.
The solution is to free the reservation policy of the chains of constitutional reasonableness as mandated by the judiciary. This overemphasis on the idea of reservation is marked by four critical aspects that signify a move away from the constitutional scheme of positive discrimination.
A complete absence of genuine debate on the question: No party could take a nuanced position on the issue of “reservation for poor”. There is a complete closure of the public debate on reservation.
The reservation regime has expanded in many directions: Ironically, most of the times, expansion has contributed to the de-legitimation of the original idea behind reservation.
- When the reservation policy went beyond SCs and STs, despite the fact that the expansion was justified, it effectively diluted the sharpness of the tool — that it would be employed for extreme cases of discrimination and exclusion.
- The moral basis of the reservation policy is almost lost. Now, the reservation policy will no more be seen as an intermediate tool to address ingrained social injustice in the Indian social order.
- The enabling provision in the Constitution was predicated on the logic that the social order is fundamentally unjust and therefore the state should intervene in favour of the most oppressed sections to enable them to compete in the public sphere and stake their claims for a share in public power. This logic is no more applicable.
- Instead, the logic now is that there are different groups in society and they need to be accommodated, as far as possible, in a proportionate manner. This new logic implies that reservation is not a remedy for traditional social ills but a routine policy tool to arrange political and administrative power.
Caste as the primary basis for making claims on the state: Not the injustice perpetrated by the caste system, but caste in itself has emerged as the primary social group for which demands are made, robbing policy-making of the more justifiable bases of deprivation. Instead of an expectation that policy should be directed at and based on some agreed ways of assessing deprivation and its amelioration, now policy can be based merely on the fact that it addresses specific groups. India’s entire public discourse and political calculus are deeply influenced by single-caste considerations.
Finally, the language of pseudo-justice being popularised by the “quota-for-poor” policy is symptomatic of a larger failure. It replaces the principle that welfare should be the basic raison d’être of public policy, it hides the colossal failure of the state in handling questions of poverty and deprivation and, at the same time, it indicates a dead end in policy making.
As Austin put it, “Among the upper castes-classes, ‘individual rights’ and ‘economic comfort’ have meaning; among the bottom castes-classes…they mean little or nothing”. If the custodians of the constitution do not course-correct immediately, the result will only be social conflict.
Connecting the Dots:
- Reservation appears to be the only answer to all our socio-economic complications. Examine.
- Essay topic: We have a consensus on reservation and yet social groups continue to agitate for reservation — representing the closure of imagination in public policy-making.