Supreme Court’s Three-question Test for validity of 10% EWS Quota

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    Context

    • The Supreme Court will examine whether The Constitution (103rd Amendment) Act, which introduced a 10 per cent quota for Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) in government jobs and admissions, violates the basic structure of the Constitution.

    Who are Economically Weaker Sections (EWS)?

    • Apart from social and educational backwardness and experiences of untouchability in India, there are some castes that are economically poor but not socially backward. 
    • They are not entitled for caste-based affirmative action under reservation. 
    • They are generally known as general category people, not entitled to reservation benefits meant for the SCs, STs and OBCs. 
    • The Government of India has defined them as EWS.

    What is the 103rd Amendment?

    • The 103rd Amendment inserted Articles 15(6) and 16(6) in the Constitution to provide up to 10 per cent reservation to EWS other than backward classes, SCs, and STs in higher educational institutions and initial recruitment in government jobs. The amendment empowered state governments to provide reservation on the basis of economic backwardness.
    • Article 15 prohibits discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex, or place of birth. Article 16 guarantees equal opportunity in matters of public employment. The additional clauses gave Parliament the power to make special laws for EWS like it does for SCs, STs, and OBCs.

    S R Sinho Commission

    • The EWS reservation was granted based on the recommendations of a commission headed by Major General (retd) S R Sinho. The commission, which was constituted in March 2005, submitted its report in July 2010.
    • The Sinho Commission recommended that all below-poverty-line (BPL) families within the general category as notified from time to time, and also all families whose annual family income from all sources is below the taxable limit, should be identified as EBCs (economically backward classes).

    What is the basis of the challenge to the amendment?

    • Violates the Basic Doctrine of the Constitution: On the ground that it violates the Supreme Court’s 1992 ruling in Indra Sawhney & Ors v Union of India, which upheld the Mandal report and capped reservations at 50 per cent. The court had held that economic backwardness cannot be the sole criterion for identifying a backward class.
    • Issue of private, unaided educational institutions: They have argued that their fundamental right to practise a trade/ profession is violated when the state compels them to implement its reservation policy and admit students on any criteria other than merit.

    Source: IE