EWS Quota does not violate the basic structure: SC

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    • The Supreme Court recently upheld the 103rd amendment to the Constitution introducing a 10 percent reservation for the Economically Weaker Sections (EWS).

    More about the Supreme Court’s opinion

    • On “Exclusion of the reserved categories from the EWS quota”:
      • Issue:
        • Critics believe that the act breaches the basic structure of the Constitution by excluding(Socially and Educationally Backward Classes)/OBCs (Other Backward Classes)/SCs (Scheduled Castes)/STs (Scheduled Tribes) from the scope of EWS reservation.
      • Court’s opinion:
        • Exclusion of the reserved categories from the EWS quota does not violate the equality code. 
        • According to the court it does not in any manner cause damage to the basic structure of the constitution according to the court.
    • On the “Reservation for EWS over and above the 50 percent cap”: 
      • Issue:
        • In the Indra Sawhney vs Union of India, popularly known as the Mandal Commission case, the Supreme Court ordered that total reservation should not exceed 50 percent. 
        • Critics believe that the 50 percent ceiling is a constitutional requirement without which the structure of equality of opportunity would collapse.
      • Court’s opinion:
        • It also opined that the reservation for EWS over and above 50 percent cap does not violate the basic structure.
          • Ceiling, by itself, is not inflexible and in any case only applies to reservations envisaged by Articles 15(4), 15(5) and 16(4) of the Constitution according to the statement given by the court.
    • Affirmative action:
      • Amendment enabling states to make special provisions for EWS other than Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Socially and Educationally Backward Classes is required to be treated as an affirmative action on the part of the Parliament for the benefit and betterment of the EWS category. 
    • On the time span of reservations:
      • Though it was envisaged that reservation must have a time span, it has still not been accomplished even after 75 years of Independence
      • Court also opined that the policy needs to be revisited in the larger interest of the society as a whole, as a step forward towards transformative constitutionalism.

    103rd Amendment Act

    • About:
      • The Parliament amended the Constitution of India (103rd Amendment) Act, 2019 to provide for a 10% reservation in education and government jobs in India for a section of the General category candidates.
    • Introduction of Article 15 (6) and Article 16 (6):
      • The amendment introduced economic reservation by amending Articles 15 and 16. It inserted Article 15 (6) and Article 16 (6) in the Constitution to allow reservation for the economically backward in the unreserved category. 
        • Article 15(6): 
          • Up to 10% of seats may be reserved for EWS for admission in educational institutions. Such reservations will not apply to minority educational institutions.
        • Article 16(6): 
          • It permits the government to reserve up to 10% of all government posts for the EWS.

    Arguments favouring EWS Quota

    • The quota is progressive: 
      • The economically weaker sections have not reaped the benefits of higher educational institutions and public employment due to their financial incapacity. 
      • The quota is progressive and could address the issues of educational and income inequality in India.
    • Abysmal conditions: 
      • The reservation criteria should be economic because there are many classes other than backward classes who are living under abysmal conditions but cannot avail reservation and its intended benefits. 
    • Ram Singh v. Union of India (2015): 
      • In this case, SC asserted that social deficiencies may exist beyond the concept of caste (e.g. economic status/gender identity as in transgenders). 
    • The “quota-for-poor” policy: 
      • This policy is symptomatic of a larger failure. 
      • It replaces the principle that welfare should be the basic raison d’être of public policy, it hides the colossal failure of the state in handling questions of poverty and deprivation and, at the same time, it indicates a dead-end in policy-making itself. 

    Arguments against EWS Quota

    • Reservation based on economic criteria:
      • Reservation based entirely on economic criteria is not an all-in-one solution, though family income can be one of the parameters. 
    • Determining economic backwardness:
      • Determining economic backwardness is a  major challenge as there are concerns regarding the inclusion and exclusion of persons under the criteria.
    • Equality of opportunity:
      • In M. Nagaraj v. Union of India (2006), a Constitution Bench ruled that equality is part of the basic structure of the Constitution. 
    • Financial burden:
      • The implementation of the quota is a challenge in itself as the states do not have the finances to enforce even the present and constitutionally mandated reservations.
    • Other:
      • It washes away the constitutionally permitted gatekeeping mechanism of social and educational backwardness and makes reservation available to everyone irrespective of social backwardness.
      • Reservation has also become synonymous with anti-merit, with the extension of reservation, this opinion might get further ingrained in the public psyche.

    Related provisions in the Constitution

    • Article 16(1) and 16(2) assure citizens equality of opportunity in employment or appointment to any government office.
    • Article 15(1) generally prohibits any discrimination against any citizen on the grounds of religion, caste, sex or place of birth.
    • Articles 15(4) and 16(4) state that the equality provisions do not prevent the government from making special provisions in matters of admission to educational institutions or jobs in favour of backward classes, particularly the Scheduled Castes (SCs) and the Scheduled Tribes (STs).
    • Article 16(4A) allows reservations to SCs and STs in promotions, as long as the government believes that they are not adequately represented in government services.

    Source: IE