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SC sets aside Haryana order creating a sub-category of creamy layer

GS Paper 2

Topics Covered: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.


Context: Supreme Court has quashed Haryana government’s notification. It said economic criterion can’t be sole basis to decide ‘creamy layer’.


What is Reservation?

In simple terms, it is all about reserving access to seats in the government jobs, educational institutions, and even legislatures to certain sections of the population.

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Constitutional and legal backing related to reservation:

  • Article 14: Equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India.
  • Articles 15(1) and 15(2): Prohibit the state from discriminating against any citizen on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth.

But clauses (3) to (5) of Article 15 empower the state to provide for positive discrimination in favour of the grossly underrepresented and neglected sections of the society in order to promote substantive equality or better to say EQUITY.

Article 16: Equality of opportunity in matters of public employment.

  • Article 16 clause (4)Nothing in this article shall prevent the State from making any provision for the reservation of appointments or posts in favour of any backward class of citizens which, in the opinion of the State, is not adequately represented in the services under the State.


Why Supreme Court had to intervene?

Two notifications were issued by the Haryana government sub-classifying backward classes solely on economic basis while fixing the criteria for creamy layer.

  • The apex court held that the Haryana’s notifications have violated the law declared in the Indra Sawhney judgment by identifying creamy layer only on the basis of income.
  • Apart from the economic criterion, social, educational and other factors must also be taken into account before defining a “creamy layer” among the backward classes.


What is the creamy layer?

It is a concept that sets a threshold within which OBC reservation benefits are applicable. While there is a 27% quota for OBCs in government jobs and higher educational institutions, those falling within the “creamy layer” cannot get the benefits of this quota.

  • Based on the recommendation of the Second Backward Classes Commission (Mandal Commission), the government on August 13, 1990 had notified 27% reservation for Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBCs) in vacancies in civil posts and services that are to be filled on direct recruitment.b
  • After this was challenged, the Supreme Court on November 16, 1992 (Indira Sawhney case) upheld 27% reservation for OBCs, subject to exclusion of the creamy layer.

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Few categories defined under Creamy Layer:

Income beyond 8 lakh: For those not in government services, the current threshold is an income of Rs 8 lakh per year.

Parents’ rank: For children of government employees, the threshold is based on their parents’ rank and not income.


Take away from Indira Sawhney case:

A nine-judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court in the Indira Sawhney case of 1992 specifically answered the question “whether backward classes can be identified only and exclusively with reference to the economic criterion.”

  • The constitution bench had categorically ruled that a backward class cannot be determined only and exclusively with reference to economic criterion. The bench had held that economic criterion may be a consideration or basis along with, and in addition to, social backwardness, but it can never be the sole criterion.


Way forward:

Reservation based entirely on economic criteria is not an all-in-one solution, though family income can be one of the parameters. Also, its time to fix a time period for the reservation system – rather than extending it to eternity. Moreover, the reservation is not a poverty alleviation scheme. There is a need to adopt MADHYAM MARG to award excellence and merit along with providing equal opportunity to vulnerable sections.


Insta Curious: 

Parliament has passed Constitution 127th Amendment Bill to Restore States’ Power to Specify SEBCs. Know more about this here.



Prelims Link:

  1. About Creamy layer.
  2. Its evolution.
  3. Constitutional backing to reservation.
  4. About Indira Sawhney Judgment.

Mains Link:

Discuss the significance of Indira Sawhney Judgment.

Sources: the Hindu.