INDIA: The Supreme Court upheld the 10% quota for the poor, or EWS (Economically Weaker Sections), in government positions and colleges in a significant judgement on November 7. This quota was implemented right before the 2019 general elections.
The chief justice of India, UU Lalit, stated at the outset that there are four separate judgments on pleas challenging the EWS quota.
A five-judge constitutional panel, consisting of Chief Justice UU Lalit and Justices Dinesh Maheshwari, S Ravindra Bhat, Bela M Trivedi, and JB Pardiwala, had heard the case and reserved a decision on it on September 27.
The Constitution’s EWS quota amendment was invalidated by Justice S. Ravindra Bhat, who dissented. The Chief Justice of India, UU Lalit, agreed with him, while other judges upheld the quota, claiming that the law governing the reserving of seats for EWS does not contradict the Constitution’s fundamental principles.
In the case of a constitutional bench, the majority opinion must win out despite conflicting opinions.
“The challenge to the 103rd amendment fails as a result of the majority’s conclusion. The writ petitions and other processes are consequently dismissed,” CJI UU Lalit said
Primary questions posed before the court
Justice Dinesh Maheshwari underlined that the bench had examined three key questions while making the decision.
The first question concerned whether reservations made based on economic reasons were permissible by the Constitution and, if so, whether they would violate its fundamental principles.
The second addressed whether the 103rd Amendment, which allows the state to set specific rules for admittance to private institutions without government assistance, violates the fundamental principles of the Constitution.
The third concern was whether the amendment’s exclusion of SEBCs (Socially and Educationally Backward Classes), OBCs, SCs, and STs from the application of EWS reservation constituted a fundamental violation of the framework.
Not a violation of the Constitution’s fundamental principles.
As per Justice Dinesh Maheshwari, the 103rd constitutional amendment does not violate the Constitution’s fundamental principles.
“The EWS quota does not contradict equality or the fundamental structure of the Constitution. Adding a reservation to an existing reservation does not contradict constitutional provisions,” he stated.
Justice Maheshwari continued by stating that reservation is a tool used by the state to implement affirmative action for the inclusion of underprivileged groups. By enabling the state to make provisions for education, he continued, “Basic structures can’t be breached.”
He pointed out that reservations are important for classes that are disadvantaged as well as those that are socially and economically backwards.
View reservations solely on economic criteria
“Reservation is a tool used by the state to ensure an all-inclusive approach. It is a tool not only for the integration of socially and educationally disadvantaged groups… Reservations for EWS do not contradict the basic structure due to the 50% ceiling limit because the ceiling limit is not rigid,” in the majority judgment, Justice Maheshwari stated.
EWS benefits cannot be deemed discriminatory
Justice Trivedi agreed with Justice Maheshwari that inequalities could not be treated equitably. Moreover, she added, if the state can defend the quota, it cannot be ruled discriminatory.
“SEBC form separate categories. They can’t be treated at par with the unreserved category. The benefit under EWS can’t be said to be discriminatory,” she stated.
Speaking on the history of the quota policy, Justice Bela argued that the reservation system in India cannot be attributed to the long-standing caste structure.
Reservation, a tool for achieving social justice
Justice Pardiwala stated that the EWS quota is legal and that reservations are a tool to achieve social justice rather than an end in themselves. He said that it is important to evaluate the process for identifying underprivileged classes for reservations.
“The idea of Dr Ambedkar was to bring reservation for 10 years, but it has continued. Reservation shouldn’t be allowed to become vested interest,” he added.
Amendment impairs the structure of social justice
It is significant to note that in their opposing opinions, Chief Justice of India UU Lalit and Justice S Ravindra Bhat did not claim that discrimination based on economic factors is unconstitutional.
However, they contend that the 103rd amendment engages in constitutionally outlawed kinds of discrimination by eliminating SC, ST, and OBC impoverished people from economically underprivileged sections (on the grounds that they have received benefits).
They said, “Our Constitution forbids exclusion, and this amendment damages the fabric of social justice and thus the fundamental framework. This amendment leads us to believe that individuals receiving social and lower-income benefits are somehow better off.”
“The description of SEBCs excluding the poor is erroneous. What is defined as advantages is not a free pass; it is a compensation mechanism to compensate… Exclusion based on social background undermines the equality code,” they added further.
In terms of reservations, they were likewise opposed to going beyond the 50% threshold. They declared, “Permitting a breach of 50% would result in compartmentalization.”
About the 103rd amendment
Simply expressed, the constitutional amendment (of 2019) permits the centre to provide reserves for economically weaker sections of the population purely on the basis of economic backwardness.
And it does so by including a new clause in Articles 16 (equality of opportunity in areas of public employment) and 15 (prohibition of discrimination on the grounds of religion, race, caste, sex, or place of birth) of the Indian Constitution. In essence, what this entails is:
- Reservations in educational facilities are just one specific measure the federal government might take to aid residents who are less fortunate economically.
- Any educational institution, including for-profit ones, allows for the making of such reservations (aided or unaided).
- However, these reservations do not apply to minority-serving educational institutions covered by Article 30(1).
- A 10% cap will be placed on the maximum number of such bookings, on top of any already made ones.
Who can avail of the EWS quota benefits?
Individuals with a gross annual household income of up to Rs. 8 lakh
Families with a home larger than 1,000 square feet, a plot of land larger than 100 yards in a notified municipal area, or a plot larger than 200 yards in an unnotified municipal area are excluded.
Existing reservation-holding communities, including SCs, STs and the “non-creamy layer” of OBCs.
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