Why is a reservation needed in the first place?
Poverty is inextricably linked with the history of caste segregation in our country. Certain groups were excluded from the most basic of rights and opportunities due to the hierarchical nature of the caste system. Though not as rigid as it used to be, it still holds a great deal of power over the Indian citizenry. To combat the same and hold true to the spirit of poverty alleviation, the government of India reserved official governmental posts and seats in a government-run educational institution for the Scheduled castes (SCs) and the Scheduled tribes (STs). Soon, through the recommendations of the Mandal Commission, Other Backward Classes (OBCs) were added to the mix. Together, SCs, STs, and the OBCs comprised 70% of the Indian population, so it came as a panacea to them and uplifted their communities greatly. It gave them a chance to rise up to a respectable level of income and status. But, due to the exploitative nature of the policy, was tweaked to exclude the creamy layer from reaping the benefits of reservation.
What is the EWS reservation policy?
The government capped the reservations at 50% i.e., 50% govt. posts/seats in govt. education institutions are reserved for SCs, STs, and OBCs and 50% are for the open or general category. Now, it was noticed that a section in the open category was economically weaker than the rest of the category. Hence, the government came up with an EWS reservation that is not applicable to the backward classes. It is only available to the poor in the forward classes. It was added in the constitution by amending Articles 15 and 16 by the 103rd constitutional amendment, 2019. The EWS reservation is 10% and is carved out of 50% of the open category. Hence, the open category is now down to 40%.
Is the EWS reservation problematic?
The two most pertinent questions which determine the validity of the said reservation are—does it infringe the cap of 50% reservation? And, does it breach the basic structure of the constitution? The answer to the first one is, no. The EWS quota is carved out of the open category. But it does violate the Indra Sawhney judgment which held that economic backwardness cannot be the sole reason to identify a backward class. The state replied with the argument that Article 46 mandates the state to protect the rights of the economically weaker section. The answer to the second question is being formulated by a bench comprising five judges headed by CJI UU Lalit. The most recent statement by the CJI is “When it is about other reservations, it is attached to lineage. That backwardness is not something that is not temporary but goes down centuries and generations. But economic backwardness can be temporary”. Hence, EWS can be struck down for being arbitrary and unconstitutional.
The bottom line
The root of all discord is poverty and no amount of reservation can help uplift communities until and unless the state proactively works towards creating an employment surplus environment. It needs to formulate income-enhancing policies and leave everything else to merit.