[Editorial Analysis] EWS quota

Mains Paper 1: Society
Prelims level: Economically Weaker Sections
Mains level: Criteria for identifying the ‘Economically Weaker Sections’ for the purpose of granting reservation

Context:

• The questions raised by the Supreme Court of India about the criteria for identifying the ‘Economically Weaker Sections’ (EWS) for the purpose of granting reservation are quite apposite.

About the current Issue on EWS criteria:

• Current system: An annual income of ₹8 lakh is the limit beyond which an OBC family would fall under the ‘creamy layer’ and will be denied reservation. The same income figure is being used as the ceiling for identifying EWS.

• News: The Union Government has decided to revisit the criteria set out for eligibility for its 10% reservation under the economically weaker sections (EWS) category within a month.

• Context: The decision came after the Supreme Court closely questioned it on how it arrived at the income figure, while considering a challenge to the implementation of 27% reservation for the Other Backward Classes and 10% for the EWS under the all-India quota for medical admissions.

Sharp Questions by the Supreme court:

• Quantifiable data is important: It is now a settled principle that quantifiable data or proof of a detailed study are required to justify any category of reservation, as well as the norms that determine which section gets it and which does not.

• M Nagraj v. Union of India (2006): held that the ‘Creamy layer principle’ was based on right to equality, therefore applied for SC/ST in Promotion. The benefits should go to the weakest of the weak and not be snatched away by members of the same class who were in the “top creamy layer”.

• This means “Quantifiable data” should show:

1. The backwardness of community,

2. Inadequacy of its representation in service and

3. Lack of adverse impact on “the overall efficiency of administration”. [Art. 335]

• Jarnail Singh v. Lachhami Gupta (2018): It re-affirmed the applicability of the creamy layer norms to SC/STs as in M. Nagraj Case. But it said that SC/STs are indubitably backward (as opined in Indira Swahney Case).

1. It favoured a ‘means test’ to exclude from the purview of SC/ST reservation those who had achieved some level of economic advancement.

2. It rejects the opinion of Ashoka Thakur (2008) case that ‘creamy layer’ is a principle of identification and not of equality.

• In this backdrop, it is logical that the Court would want to know whether there was any study before the Centre prescribed the norms for identifying EWS beneficiaries based on indicators of economic disadvantage.

• EWS criteria even under General category is in consideration: In fact that the validity of the 103rd Constitution Amendment, through which the EWS quota was introduced in 2019, is before a Constitution Bench. In the ongoing proceedings, the Bench is considering the validity of the 27% quota for Other Backward Classes (OBC) and 10% for Economically Weaker Sections introduced for admission to the All-India Quota (AIQ) of seats in medical admissions throughout the country.

• It has clarified that it is not examining any policy issue, but wants to determine if constitutional requirements have been complied with.

Conclusion:

• The main constitutional Question: Whether those who do not face the impediments that come with social and educational backwardness can be equated with those who do.

• However, the current proceeding will only decide the validity of OBC and EWS reservation in admissions under the AIQ.

• The larger issue that remains is whether reservation can be treated as a poverty alleviation measure and those not well-off but belonging to socially advanced communities can be given a share of the reservation pie.

• The Constitution Bench should resolve this question early.

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Prelims Questions:

Q.1) With reference to the shale oil, consider the following statements:

1. The key difference between shale oil and conventional crude is that the former, also called ‘tight oil’, is found in smaller batches, and deeper than conventional crude deposits.

2. Its extraction requires creation of fractures in oil and gas rich shale to release hydrocarbons through a process called hydraulic fracking.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?
(a) 1 only
(b) 2 only
(c) Both 1 and 2
(d) Neither 1 nor 2

Answer: C

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