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Economic Reservations in India

The Indian constitution itself provides reservation for the upliftment of various groups of people. Earlier, the reservations were provided on the basis of castes but on January 14, 2019, Indian government took a revolutionary step towards the development of economically weaker people by giving them 10% quota in government jobs and education.

On January 8, 2019, the NDA- led government introduced the constitution bill (one hundred and twenty fourth amendment) in the lower house of the parliament. The aim of this bill was to provide reservation to the economically weaker section of the society in public employment and education. On January 9, 2019, the lower house passed the bill with 323 members assenting the bill out of 326 members present and voting, and ultimately was passed in the upper house too with just 7 members voting against the bill and without any recommendations.

Later, the bill was sent to the president of India for his assent, on January 12, 2019, president Ram Nath Kovind gave his assent to the bill. And hence, the constitution (103rd Amendment) Act, 2019 came into force on January 14, 2019 providing reservations to the economically weaker section of the society.

Social and economic differences have always been a barrier in the development of the country. To overcome theses, the steps and efforts taken by the governments and Courts have been incredible. The government knows that a country cannot develop fully without the development of the citizens and if all the citizens are treated equally, this development of citizens cannot take place. The government and the courts of India has time to time taken steps for the social equality and this time, with this Amendment, the government tried to overcome economic inequality and injustice. 

The Amendment
The constitution (103rd Amendment) Act, 2019, Amended the provisions of Article 15 and 16 of Indian constitution. An additional clause 6 is added to both of these Articles. The amendment to the article 15 of the Indian constitution provides reservation to economically weaker sections in case of educational institutions (public as well as private, excluding minority educational institutions). On the other hand, amendment to Article 16 of Indian constitution provides reservation in public employment to economically weaker section of the society.

This Act violates the 50% limit imposed by the nine judge bench in the case of Indra Sawhney. Now, the reservation has reached up to 60% and therefore, this Act was criticised by many people. The interpretation of “economically weaker section” is left to the states and will be decided by them from time to time on the basis of “family income” and “other indicators of economic disadvantage”. Even here, the term “other indicators of economic disadvantage” isn’t defined clearly.

Who All Comes Under Economically Backward Sections?

The central government of India had specified a certain criteria to identify economically backward criteria. However the states are given the privilege to decide the income criterion of the beneficiaries.

The criteria decided by the central government to identify the economically backward section is for the general category people whose:

  • Family income is below 8 lakhs per annum will be covered under this scheme
  • Agricultural land owned by the family is less than 5 acres.
  • Residential flat owned by the  family is less than 1000sq. Ft
  • Residential plot owned by the family is less than 100 sq. Yards.

Even though, the law makers might have the interest of people in their minds while introducing this amendment, this amendment has some problems. The first and the foremost problem with this amendment is that the criteria set by the central government for identification of economically weaker section covers around 80% of the Indian population.

That means, 80% of the Indian population is eligible for this 10% quota. Another major problem with this amendment is that it violates the rule of 50% reservations. Now, the total reservations have reached to 60% and this means that the people selected on the basis of merits would just be 40%.

This amendment is also challenged by an organisation named youth for equality and several others, they argued that this amendment violates basic structure of the constitution Indian laid by ‘keshvananda bharti’ case by exceeding the capping of fifty percent limit set by the honourable supreme court of India. 

What Is The Basic Structure Doctrine?
The Indian constitution itself has provided the right to central legislature and state legislature to make laws within their jurisdiction. Amendments in Indian constitution are also possible under article 368, but these amendments can only be made by the parliament and this right isn’t absolute. To preserve the original ideals and philosophy behind the Indian constitution, the Supreme Court laid down the basic structure doctrine.

This word ‘basic structure’ isn’t mentioned anywhere in the Indian constitution and its concept developed slowly and gradually. In the case of Shankari Prasad vs. Union of India and sajjan singh vs State of Rajasthan, the supreme court of India held that the parliament has the power to make amend any part of Indian constitution under Article 368. Later, in the case of golaknath vs state of Punjab, the Supreme Court overruled the earlier decisions and held that the parliament does not have the power to amend part III of the Indian constitution.

According to this judgement, Article 368 of the Indian constitution only lays the procedure to amend the constitution and does not give absolute power to amend any provisions of Indian constitution. Later on, in the case of keshvananda bharti v/s state of kerala, the 24th constitution Amendment Act was challenged.

This Act had given absolute power to the Parliament to make amendments in the provisions of Indian constitution and also made it obligatory for the president of India to give his assent to all the constitution Amendment Bills bought to him. The Supreme Court, in this case the Supreme Court held that the parliament has the power to amend the constitution but the basic structure of the constitution should be maintained in doing so. But here, the Supreme Court did not clarify the meaning of basic structure.

In the case of economic reservations, many have argued that it violates the basic structure doctrine.

At the time of drafting the constitution, the framers very well knew about the caste based discrimination in the society. At that time, there was a large section of under privileged people who had to face discrimination on the basis of caste and they’ve been experiencing this for ages. To overcome all these ill practices and to promote equality among the Indian society, the framers of the Indian constitution inserted the provisions of reservations. It was done to uplift the backward class people and give them a social standing.

The makers tried to abolish discrimination based on caste system through these provisions. But, now the times are changing and with the changing time, the mentality of people is also changing. The so called upper caste has started accepting the backward class. The backward class now have their own social standing and they are given equal rights.

Therefore, the sole criterion of caste based reservation cannot be adopted in modern India. The caste based reservations have helped a lot in changing the condition of Indian society but with changing times, the criterion for reservations should also be changed. These reservations should be now on the basis of economic condition of a person. The economic equality among people will also help in achieving social equality.

The weapon of reservations is a very helpful one. It should be used in the best possible way and should be used carefully. Changes are a necessity of life and hence, laws and provisions should also be changed with the changing time. The laws and provisions should be made according to the need of current society conditions.

Written By: Muskan Saxena (3rd year BBA LLB, JECRC University, Jaipur)   

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