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The Economic Reservation Bill: A Political sham under the garb of Public Policy

The Union Cabinet recently announced 10% economic reservations to the general category (or the “upper caste”). According to this bill, those who earn less than Rs. 8 lakhs per annum, have less than 5 acres of land and their house area is less than 1,000 square feet, qualify for reservation. The criteria for economic reservation are so liberal that almost 90% of Indian families are covered under this. This highlights that our country is still poor, with the economic power being controlled by a handful of people. Additionally, reservation of 10% being given to the masses that constitute 90% of the population is patently farcical. The irony of this situation is very agonising. Someday we might reach a stage where the whole population is covered by reservation, then that would remove reservation and place everyone on an equal footing.

The total reservation which exists in India is 49.5% and this additional 10% will raise the figure to 59.5%, thus, violating the Supreme Court’s 50% reservation cap that it had imposed in Indira Sawhney v Union of India.[1] That is why this move was followed by the 124th constitutional amendment which puts this reservation in the Ninth Schedule to protect it from judicial scrutiny.

The Supreme Court in Indira Sawhney (1992) had put a 50% cap on caste based reservations and ruled that “no provision of reservation or preference can be so vigorously pursued as to destroy the very concept of equality.” Courts have consistently held that reservation under Art. 15(4) and 16(14) should not exceed 50% and this has also been accepted by both the Union and the States. But it seems like the government is trying to do everything possible under the Sun to put itself in power, again, in the upcoming 2019 election after suffering three major defeats to Congress in State elections. Surprisingly, BJP had 4 years and 8 months but they were reminded of the “economically suffering upper castes” just before the elections.

Leaving aside the timing of the bill, the Union is also trying to circumvent this reservation under the head of “economic” reservation and trying to get away from the Supreme Court’s bar on not allowing more than 50% “social” reservations based on caste. However, if we analyse the reservation, it is not just based on economic reservation but also on giving economic reservation to a segregated portion of the general category (or the “upper caste”), which again puts it under the same social reservation head, thereby drawing upon itself the curtains of judicial scrutiny. Had the intention of the government been to give uplift the economically downtrodden, it could have brought in a caste neutral reservation granting economic reservation to all in an equal manner, but that wouldn’t have helped BJP to gain the requisite number of votes it wanted to collect from the “upper castes”. Yet another example of how caste plays the major role in determining our leaders.

Another way of fulfilling the government’s intention could have been the adjustment of the 10% in those 49.5% and not affected the 50% cap. That would have, however, hampered their vote game, obviously. Hence, it is not a move for the public but rather another election gimmick to gain votes from one specific caste, which has been happening in India since Independence. These are just political shams engineered under the garb of public policy. The government should, instead of giving reservations, increase the number of job opportunities and give employment to its people. There has been a decrease in the number of jobs in the public sector and that is going down every year, so without an increase in the number of jobs, how is reservation going to help the nation, as a whole?

Increasing the reservation bar to 59.5% is again a detriment to merit. Instead of motivating and encouraging meritorious students/scholars, the government is hell bent to not even let them get decent jobs by going on increasing the % of reservation. If this is what meritorious people get, then either the nation will slowly go going down or these people will start moving abroad or both. There are numerous issues with reservation today. It is the recent mobilisation of the Gujjars, Marathas and the Patidars that has led to the common perception that reservations are a discretionary policy instrument, which the State freely distributes to powerful political constituencies. Reservations often generate too much heat but only confer minimal benefit. The practical implications of the bill would not be too significant because it would make millions compete for those hundred jobs, which is what is happening today as well. It is high time that governments realise that the answer is not reservation but rather generation of employment for its distressed population.

End-Notes
[1] Indira Sawhney v Union of India, AIR 1993 SC 477.

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