Home / News / India /  EWS quota will not impact number of seats for general, reserved categories

The Centre told the Supreme Court on Tuesday that the decision to grant a 10% EWS (Economically Weaker Section) quota in admissions will not have an impact on the availability of seats for the general and reserved categories because 2,13,766 additional seats will be added to those already present in higher educational institutions.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta informed a five-judge constitution bench, which reserved its decision on appeals challenging the 10% EWS reservation in admissions and government jobs, that the government had given central higher education institutions 4,315 crore to build additional infrastructure to meet the demand for raising the seats.

The bench requested information from the law officer regarding the number of scholarships available to those pursuing professional courses at the conclusion of the hearing.

“What are the kinds of scholarships you give for medical, engineering and other professional courses? The poorest of the poor in all categories...," it asked.

The law officer, who was advancing his rejoinder submissions on the 7th day of the hearing which commenced on 13 September, said such figures will be needed for Parliament to take action and these issues would not impact the constitutionality of the amendment.

Academician Mohan Gopal, senior attorneys like Ravi Verma Kumar, P Wilson, Meenakshi Arora, Sanjay Parikh, and KS Chauhan, as well as lawyer Shadan Farasat, argued against the constitutional amendment and urged the bench, which also included Justices Dinesh Maheshwari, S Ravindra Bhat, Bela M Trivedi, and JB Pardiwala, to overturn it.

The majority of the attorneys who opposed the EWS quota argued that the amended law defeated the idea of the creamy layer by excluding the poor who belonged to the Scheduled Castes (SCs), Scheduled Tribes (STs), and Other Backward Classes (OBCs).

The solicitor general said the Central government, as a sovereign, had responded to the wishes and aspirations of the poor people.

He said, “It is submitted that contemporaneously with the constitutional amendment a decision was taken, in order to ensure that the seats available to the reserved category and the open category are not impacted in absolute numbers."

He further added, "The Department of Higher Education issued orders on January 17, 2019 to all the Central Educational Institutions to increase the intake in all branches of study to provide for 10 per cent reservations for Economically Weaker Sections, while protecting the proportionate reservations for Scheduled Castes/ Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes and also not reducing the seat availability in the General category (in absolute numbers) in the year 2018-19."

According to calculations, the law officer explained, the total increase in intake must be raised by roughly 25% in order to provide the EWS quota without adversely affecting the proportionate existing reservations and without reducing the seat availability for the general category relative to admissions made in 2018–19.

“A total of 2,14,766 additional seats were approved to be created in the central educational institutions; and an expenditure of 4,315.15 crore was approved to be incurred to improve the infrastructure in the higher educational institutions," he said.

Mehta said Attorney General KK Venugopal would be also filing a separate short note in the case.

Senior attorney Ravi Varma Kumar started the rejoinder arguments by referencing the exclusion of SC, ST, and OBC people based on their caste. He also claimed that the EWS quota "destroyed the equality code."

He assailed the submissions of the two top government law officers that SCs, STs and OBCs are a homogeneous group.

Additionally, Kumar disagreed with the argument that the EWS quota was acceptable in school admissions under the Right to Education (RTE), claiming that RTE never excluded backward classes from its purview.

However, attorney VK Biju supported the EWS quota, arguing that SCs, STs, and OBCs are all separate compartments and posing the question of why a poor "rickshaw puller brahmin" should not be granted the reservation.

Senior advocate Gopal Sankaranayanan assailed the submission that only forward class poor will get the reservation, saying people belonging to Muslim, Sikh and Christian faiths will also benefit from the scheme.

The top court heard as many as 40 petitions and most of the pleas, including the lead one filed by 'Janhit Abhiyan' in 2019, challenged the validity of the Constitution Amendment (103rd) Act 2019.

The Central government filed a number of petitions asking for the transfer of pending cases contesting the EWS quota law from different high courts to the Supreme Court in order to obtain a binding ruling. The appeals against the Centre's decision to give EWS a 10% reservation in admissions and government jobs resulted in the bench framing three broad issues for adjudication on 8 September.

"Whether the 103rd Constitution amendment Act can be said to breach the basic structure of the Constitution by permitting the State to make special provisions, including reservation, based on economic criteria," read the first issue framed.

The second legal question was whether the constitutional amendment could be said to breach the basic structure by permitting the state to make special provisions concerning admissions to private unaided institutions.

"Whether the 103rd Constitution amendment can be said to breach the basic structure of the Constitution in excluding the SEBCs/OBCs, SCs/STs from the scope of EWS reservation," the third issue, to be adjudicated upon by the bench, read.

(With inputs from PTI)

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