Reality Check India

Economic quota for upper castes

Posted in Uncategorized by realitycheck on February 4, 2007

The UPA government (led by the Congress) recently passed the 27% OBC quota bill. This was a slap in the face of the poor (because the quota was extended to creamy layers) , this was also a slap in the face of marginalized castes from J&K/ Bengal/Assam/all over India (because no data was presented nor sought about actual backwardness of dominant castes who have claimed OBC membership).


Ok, lets get to the point. Recently, the UPA in an effort to cut its losses extended a commission to look into a quota for the “poorer sections”.

A commission to recommend affirmative action for the poor among the upper caste is being revitalised and Major General S R Sinho, who has been heading the Commission for Economically Poorer Sections, is being given a fresh lease of life by an apologetic government – an extension for one year.

Source : IBNLIVE

Presumably, at the centre of this issue may be a desire to avoid (a) an actionable and measurable definition of Socially and Educationally Backward and (b) evaluating each caste that seeks OBC membership against the said definition. 

Economic reservation has no sanction under law. It will be struck down by the courts as PV Narasimha Rao found out when he proposed a 10% economic quota. Economic criteria can only be used as a filter to prevent abuse of an social program (i.e. creamy layer). It is highly undesirable except under one special case.

When does an economic quota makes sense ?

There is only one scenario in which a case can be made for quota for poor among the upper castes.  Only if we all collectively agree that the current social justice program (quota system) is a complete failure and is not retreivable. If the misuse is so high – and our institutions are so powerless against it – then we need a safety net for the poor among upper castes.  But then, we also need a safety net for the poor among OBCs and SCs and STs. So an economic quota will work only if:

A subquota is given under all quotas (ST,SC,OBC,Open) for people below the poverty line. We cant have a poor kurava having to fight with a rich yadav, when a poor brahmin does not have to fight with a rich “anybody”. These anomalies have to be sorted out.

What is the purpose ?

Another way of approaching the question is to ask, “What is the purpose of a quota for the poor ?”. Assuming we are able to implement it flawlessly, what goal would it achieve ?

We want a casteless society not a moneyless society.  Dont confuse it with outlawing castes. We want to remove caste as a determining factor in the lives of those for whom it continues to be a determining factor.  I emphasize the importance of the bold letters.

So, to ask for a economic quota is to admit massive failure to identify those groups for whom caste continues to be a hindrance. I can list a many such groups who are lumped with way more advanced groups and therefore continue to pick rags, or lay pavement, or break stones, or lift night soil. Unfortunately, these groups serve merely as poster boys for social justice.

Let me quote from a case in Kerala ( 1976 NM Thomas Vs State of Kerala). A forward community lower division clerk Mr. N.M. Thomas was denied a promotion after passing an mandatory exam. He remained a lower division clert but several SC and ST were promoted to upper division clerks even though they did not clear the exams. Mr Thomas moved the court which led to this judgement. Please read for excellent insight into the workings of social justice as envisioned in the constitution.

This judgement, which was a landmark one at that time, has some clear words about classification (bold text is my interpretation)

The classification, however, must be a reasonable one and must fulfil the following conditions:
(i) it must have a rational basis; (cant be based on 5000 year old life stories or Dronacharya stories)
(ii) it must have a close nexus with the object sought to be achieved; (if the object is to remove caste inequality for those groups for whom it continues to be, you cant have an economic quota)
(iii)it should not select any person for hostile discrimination at the cost of others. (you cant have an anti-brahmin, or anti-bania quota)

The challenge

I believe this move is being spearheaded by Rajasthani groups. After the classification of Jats as OBCs, this is probably a concession for the others who are unjustly left out. To make it legal, you have to push:

  • Constitutional amendment to Art 15(4) add the word “economically” to social and economic backward
  • Constitutional amendment to exceed the 50% ceiling. This will be likely to be struck down because  it violates basic structure of the constituion namely equality before law and equal protection under law guaranteed under Article 14 of the Constitution. Quotas can only be the exception to equality. Equality cannot be the exception (as in the case of TN).

But, why a 50% quota limit if 95% of a state is backward ?

I have answered it here. It is acceptable for 95% of a state to be Scheduled Tribes (such as Lakshadweep, Mizoram, Arunachal etc). The STs do not have to be backward to be classfied as one. They merely have to live in an area that is spatially and culturally isolated.

However, if a state if 95% backward, then it must be passed before the constitutional bench that the remaining 5% have such a stranglehold on forces of production, social, and educational, that they are capable of pushing the remaining 95% into backwardness.

Interesting article: at a lecture series on the Indian Constitution.


Retributions take on this

2 Responses

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  1. Confused said, on February 4, 2007 at 7:26 pm


    My extremely short comment is here-

    You gave the wrong link. Not that it matters. 🙂

  2. shailesh said, on July 8, 2007 at 4:49 pm

    I want to know about thiyyar caste. What do thiyyar caste called in telugu language? What is their profession? It is OC or BC caste? Pls send me the reply to my Mail ID…..

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