Insights into Editorial: Quota politics: on U.P.’s move to confer SC status on 17 backward castes
The government of Uttar Pradesh has included 17 communities belonging to the Other Backward Classes in the Scheduled Castes list.
A decision to this effect was taken and authorities have been directed to issue certificate to families belonging to these 17 castes.
The additions are — Nishad, Bind, Mallah, Kewat, Kashyap, Bhar, Dhivar, Batham, Machua, Prajapati, Rajbhar, Kahar, Pottar, Dhimar, Manjhi, Tuhaha and Gaur.
This move is seen as an attempt by the Adityanath government to provide these socially and economically backward classes with the benefits of reservation after removing legal irritants that have stalled the issue in the past.
The move will leave greater space in the OBC quota for the remaining OBC caste groups.
Why is it politically significant?
According to an estimate by the UP Backward Classes Welfare Department, these 17 castes make up around 15% of the state’s population.
A caste in the SC list gets more government benefits than one in the OBC list.
Also, since the OBC population is large, there is close competition among OBC groups for reservation benefits. If these 17 castes are moved to the list of SCs, they will face less competition because the SC population is smaller.
Central government opposes UP move to shift 17 OBCs to SC List:
Union Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment has said that the Uttar Pradesh government’s move to relist OBCs (Other Backward Classes) in the Schedule Caste list is unconstitutional and it is a transgression of Parliament’s jurisdiction.
Article 341(1) of the Indian Constitution gives the president the power to notify which castes in the country, and in specific states come under the category of Scheduled Castes.
According to Article 341 (2), the Parliament by law can include in or exclude from the list of Scheduled Castes.
Scheduled Castes are those castes named in the Scheduled Castes order of the Government of India, promulgated in August 1950.
The criteria for inclusion of a community/ caste in the Scheduled caste is extreme social, educational and economic backwardness arising out of traditional practice of untouchability.
Following due process of Law required to make changes in SC list:
In the past also three-four similar proposals were sent to Parliament, but not agreed upon.
Union ministry further said the state government should have followed proper procedure.
Rajya Sabha Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu asked Social Justice and Empowerment Minister to advise the state government to follow due process.
Raising the issue through a Zero Hour mention, Union minister of social justice Misra said under Article 341 sub clause (2) of the Constitution, the power to make changes in the SC list lies only with Parliament.
“Even President does not have the power to tinker, alter or make changes (in the list),” ministry highlighted, adding these 17 castes will neither get benefits meant for OBCs nor SCs since a state government has no power to make any alteration to the SC list.
What is the distinction between an OBC and an SC?
The yardsticks for recognising specific castes as SC and OBC are distinct.
While extreme social, educational and economic backwardness are common qualifications for both groups, SCs draw such backwardness from untouchability.
For OBCs, apart from social, educational and economic backwardness, lack of adequate representation in government posts and services is a criterion.
The positive rights guaranteed under the Constitution to SCs are to correct the historical wrongs of untouchability, and critics argue that addition of other castes in the group dilutes that guarantee.
The procedures for listing a caste as an SC:
Between 1950 and 1978, six Presidential Orders were issued recognising specific caste groups as SCs.
The name ‘Scheduled Caste’ derives from the fact that this is annexed as a Schedule to the Constitution.
Article 341(1) of the Constitution prescribes the procedure for regarding castes as “Scheduled Castes”.
As per the procedure to make additions or deletions to the Schedule by amending the concerned Presidential Order for a state under Article 341(2), state governments first propose to modify the Schedule.
Only proposals agreed by both the Registrar General of India and the National Commission for Scheduled Castes are introduced as a Bill in Parliament.
This procedure was adopted by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment in 1999 and was amended in 2002.
A similar provision exists for Scheduled Tribes under Article 342.
The move could help carve out a vote bank from the newly declared SC groups.
The U.P. government would be well-advised to avoid misleading vulnerable sections with the promise of SC status.
The Bahujan Samaj Party, which has opposed the move both in Parliament and outside, understands that new additions would shrink opportunities for the existing castes in the SC list.
That is why its leader, Ms. Mayawati, has hinted that the reservation pie can be shared among more claimants only if its size is increased.
Union minister pointed out that the power of Parliament cannot be usurped by a state. Mr. Misra said the Union government should issue an advisory, clearly stating that the State government’s order was “unconstitutional” and should be withdrawn with immediate effect.