Govt’s move to grant quotas may run into legal, practical hurdles

Defining economic backwardness, implementation by states among major challenges, say experts

Abhiram Ghadyalpatil
Updated8 Jan 2019
The decision may provide additional benefits to the Maratha community, which has already been given 16% reservation by the Maharashtra government. Photo:
The decision may provide additional benefits to the Maratha community, which has already been given 16% reservation by the Maharashtra government. Photo:

Mumbai:The Narendra Modi government’s decision to provide 10% reservation to economically backward sections, including upper castes, in education and government jobs may lead to legal challenges as well as practical problems of implementation, said legal experts, political analysts and politicians.

It could also lead to problems in states where some upper castes already enjoy the benefits of reservation. The Marathas in Maharashtra, for instance, have already been given 16% reservation.

Politically, the decision would have a major impact in states where upper castes have an electorally influential footprint.

Defining economic backwardness itself would be a formidable challenge. “If the government is moving a constitutional amendment bill to amend Article 15 and Article 16, it will have to introduce this new category of economically backward class because the Constitution talks of only social and educational backwardness. This class can be introduced if they can get the bill passed but a more formidable challenge would be defining economic backwardness,” said Shreehari Aney, eminent lawyer, constitutional expert, and former advocate general of Maharashtra.

Also Read | Opinion : Time to review India’s reservation policies

“How does one compare economic backwardness in Kashmir with that of the North-Eastern states? Or even within a state, how does economic backwardness among upper castes in Mumbai compare with that of upper castes in Vidarbha or Marathwada?” Aney asked. The centre could legislate for the entire country, but the implementation would fall on the states, which do not have the finances to implement even the existing and constitutionally-mandated reservations, the constitutional expert pointed out.

In Maharashtra, the decision would provide additional benefits to the Maratha community, which was given 16% reservation by the Devendra Fadnavis government in November last year, said Maratha activist Vinod Patil. “We welcome the decision as it helps the Maratha community on two counts. One, the constitutional amendment bill that the centre plans to pass will clear the hurdle of 50% ceiling on reservation, which was being cited as an impediment to the Maratha quota. Two, Marathas may get the benefit of this additional reservation of 10% for the upper castes provided the Maharashtra government and the centre clarify further,” Patil said.

There, however, is a grey area because Marathas ceased to be a general category caste in November when they were made a special educationally backward class deserving of reservation, he said.

Upper caste backlash is one of the reasons for the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) defeat in both Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, said a senior BJP member of Parliament (MP), who campaigned for the party in Madhya Pradesh where it narrowly lost to the Congress in the recent Assembly polls. “The upper castes, which have been a natural and traditional support base for the BJP, actually voted against us in these states or just did not turn out to vote. There is a sense of dismay among upper castes and this decision seeks to address that,” the MP said.

Nagpur-based political analyst Dilip Deodhar agreed. “In states such as Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Madhya Pradesh where Brahmins have a sizeable presence, other political parties such as the Bahujan Samaj Party started appropriating this constituency with some success. In Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan elections, the Congress wooed the Brahmins and it did not certainly harm the party,” he said.

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