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Isn’t reservation for the poor a good thing?

GS Paper 2

Syllabus: Government Policies and Interventions for Development in various sectors


Source: TH

 Direction: The article discusses what repercussions the EWS judgement can have on the reservation policy with some suggestions to reform the reservation policy. This is a very good analysis of both sides of the issue.


Context: The SC has upheld the constitutionality of the 103rd Constitution Amendment, which provides 10% reservation to the EWS but excludes the ‘poorest of poor’ among the SCs, STs and OBCs from this quota, igniting debate over the issue of reservation.


Debate on the issue in the context of the recent SC verdict:

  • Should the reservation be a means to address poverty?
    • No. Reservations result in quotas, setting aside the principle of equality. Thus, reservations should be kept for the most challenging types of discrimination, rather than temporary issues like those arising from economic reasons.
    • Reservation is not an exception to the rule of equality but is required by the principle of substantive equality. It is open to a democratically elected government to introduce reservation on grounds other than caste as well.
  • Is it necessary to reconsider caste-based reservations?
    • The SC in the 1992 Indra Sawhney verdict, justified the positive discrimination policies (caste-based) in existence in India since Independence.
    • However, 30 years after the Mandal decision, caste is not to blame for the kinds of socioeconomic inequities that exist today.
  • Can the reservation be provided without proof of inadequate representation?
    • Reservations for SCs, STs and OBCs were introduced with proof that these communities were not adequately represented.
    • But, the EWS quota has not been brought under Article 16(4) of the Constitution, which requires proof of the inadequacy of representation in government services.
    • Also, reservation is no longer a special tool meant to address discrimination and can be used to address all forms of backwardness and disadvantage.
  • How does the EWS affect the equality code of the Constitution?
    • As the Constitution authorise the state to make any positive discriminatory provision, it does not violate the equality code.
    • This is a consequentialist moment in Indian social justice discourse because it is changing the nature of reservations in the country.

Way ahead:

  • A comprehensive debate on reservation policies involving all stakeholders is needed.
  • Certain reforms like sub-classification of beneficiaries are necessary to enhance equal access to quotas which have been cornered by certain castes for generations.
  • If a class can be used to determine beneficiaries, why not religion? In light of substantial evidence of religious discrimination, prejudice and disadvantage against minorities such as Muslims, this issue requires an immediate response.


Insta Links:

The EWS judgement and the shadow of Pandora


Mains Links:

Q. The Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) judgment fails to uphold the constitutional values meant to end the perpetuation of discrimination against the SCs, STs and other backward classes. Critically Examine. (250 words)