New Delhi: Eyeing the upper caste vote in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections, the Union Cabinet on Monday approved 10 per cent reservation for economically backward sections in the general category.
The 10 per cent quota will be provided to people belonging to “unreserved categories”, including Christians and Muslims, in jobs and education with an annual income limit of Rs 8 lakh and land holding ceiling of about five acres.
The government is likely to bring a constitutional amendment bill in Parliament on Tuesday, sources said, adding that the quota will be over and above the existing 50 per cent reservation.
The decision is seen as the biggest electoral card by the Narendra Modi government since its formation in 2014, which comes months ahead of the Lok Sabha elections.
Among the major castes to benefit from the proposed law are Brahmins, Rajputs (Thakurs), Jats, Marathas, Bhumihars, several trading castes, Kapus and Kammas among other Upper Castes.
The move comes a times when the BJP has lost three crucial states – Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan – at the hands of the Congress in the recently-concluded assembly polls and is facing the challenge of the proposed grand alliance by anti-BJP parties.
The opposition questioned the timing of the move and called it an “election gimmick” while accusing the BJP of posturing ahead of the national elections.
The implementation of the proposed quota, though approved by the Union Cabinet, will not be easy.
Firstly, it has to be a constitutional amendment as it overshoots the Supreme Court’s 50 per cent cap on quotas set in 1992 and takes the total to 60 per cent.
The constitutional amendment bill seeks to insert a clause in Sections 15 and 16 of the Constitution, introducing reservation for economically weaker sections in educational institutions and government jobs.
In a 1992 order, the Supreme Court had capped reservations in government jobs and education at 50 per cent. But in an order in July 2010, it allowed states to exceed that limit if they had solid scientific data to justify the increase.
Last year, the Devendra Fadnavis-led BJP government had also announced 16 per cent reservation for Maratha community under a new Socially and Economically Backward Category (SEBC). The decision is yet to pass legal scrutiny as the matter is being heard in the Bombay High Court because of the proposed quota crossing the SC cap.
Though governments in states like Haryana, Rajasthan and Maharashtra have made laws, they are often struck down by the court on the ground of a Supreme Court judgement in the Indra Sawhney case had fixed a ceiling of 50 per cent on reservation.
The apex court has also asserted that the Constitution makes no case for quota on economic ground and only talks of educational and social backwardness besides those for the SCs and STs.
The government, on the other hand, is looking to present it as an economic reservation as the Supreme Court’s cap is for social reservation.
But, as per the legal requirements, backwardness cannot be judged by any single criteria including ‘economic backwardness’ and that such backwardness must emanate from their social and educational backwardness. This will prove to a big challenge for this government to stand scrutiny in this case.
Also, the constitutional amendment bill will face challenge in the Rajya Sabha where the BJP lacks majority number. The opposition, criticising the timing of the move, is unlikely to support the bill.
At least two-thirds of the members in both the Houses need to support the bill for its passage.
The BJP believes that if opposition parties, whose support is a must for its passage in the Rajya Sabha where the government lacks numbers, vote against it, then they will risk losing support of an influential section of society.
Influential castes like Marathas, Kapus and Jats have hit the streets in the last few years, seeking reservation benefits. Their protests at times have turned violent.