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NEW DELHI: The government is planning to raise the annual income ceiling for the so-called creamy layer among other backward classes (OBCs) from the current 8 lakh, potentially expanding the benefits of job and education reservations to more individuals.

Currently, 27% of government jobs and seats in academic institutions are reserved for OBCs; however, those with annual family income above 8 lakh are considered the ‘creamy layer’ and excluded from these benefits. The income threshold is supposed to be raised every three years; however, the last hike was in 2017, and the previous threshold was 6 lakh set in 2013.

In a written reply in the Lok Sabha, minister of state for social justice Pratima Bhoumik said, “A proposal for revision of income criteria for determining the creamy layer among the OBCs is under the consideration of the government."

The minister said the government has formed a commission headed by retired judge G. Rohini to examine the sub-categorization of OBCs. “The commission is yet to submit its report to the government," Bhoumik said.

The Justice Rohini committee is considering the sub-categorization of OBC quota and if any particular community or group of communities are benefiting most from the OBC quota and how to iron out anomalies.

Activists working for OBC welfare are speculating that the government is looking to raise the threshold to 12 lakh to accommodate more OBC individuals left out due to rising income. The minister, however, did not answer part of the questions of Tamil Nadu Congress parliamentarian S. Jothimani on whether the government is looking to raise the ceiling to 15 lakh per annum.

G. Karunanidhy, general secretary of the All India OBC Federation, said the Union government should have increased the threshold by September 2020 as the law mandates it must be revised every three years. “The government is still sitting on the file. It set up a B.P. Sharma committee on OBC creamy layer that has already submitted its report, which the government is not making public. We are hearing that the Sharma committee has recommended that salary income and agriculture income should be considered while fixing the creamy layer slab. However, we have given a representation to reject that committee report," Karunanidhy said.

The OBC community feels incomes have gone up since 2017, and not raising the threshold will prevent people from availing of employment and education reservations.

“By adding salary income, a segment of the government wants to exclude certain middle-income OBC people working with government and PSUs, whose children are aspiring to study in top government institutions like IITs and IIMs and get government jobs. Through such reservations, you will pull people out of social and educational discrimination," said Karunanidhy. Currently, high property income and income from entrepreneurial activities, but not salary income, are considered for calculating the creamy layer threshold.

There is also a counter-argument that an individual earning 70,000 or 80,000 per month is already empowered and should not continue to enjoy all kinds of reservation as it will also be a disservice to economically weaker sections in the same community.

In a separate reply on the same issue, the ministry Tuesday said states cannot maintain a separate list of OBCs, and everyone has to follow the central list.

“The Supreme Court in its order dated 5 May 2021 in Civil Appeal No.3123/2020 observed that as per provisions of Article 342A of the Constitution, states do not have the power to maintain a separate state list of OBCs. The central list notified under Article 342A, shall be the only list for all purposes of the Constitution," the ministry told Lok Sabha.

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