In India, a reservation system is a form of affirmative action designed to improve the social and economic status of certain marginalized communities. The reservation system has been in place for decades and is intended to provide opportunities for education and employment for these communities. However, there has been a growing debate about the effectiveness of the reservation system and whether it should be based on economic criteria rather than caste or religion.
The Constitution of India guarantees a certain percentage of seats in educational institutions and government jobs for members of Scheduled Castes (SCs), Scheduled Tribes (STs), and Other Backward Classes (OBCs). Economic-based reservation in India is a relatively new concept, with the first major policy changes being introduced in the early 2000s. It is a policy that aims to provide government benefits and opportunities to individuals and groups belonging to economically disadvantaged societies. this policy is intended to promote social and economic equality by providing access to education, employment, and other opportunities to those who may otherwise be excluded due to economic reasons. This reservation was introduced in India in 2019, through the 103rd Constitutional Amendment Act.
In January 2019, a new bill, The Constitution (One Hundred and Third Amendment) Bill, 2019 was passed in both houses. On 14th January 2019, the One Hundred and Third Amendment of the Constitution of India came into force and amended Article 15(6) and Article 16(6) of the Constitution of India to approve additional 10% reservations to the Economically Weaker Section category. The cabinet has decided that this exceeds the existing 50% reservation for the SC/ST/OBC category. Many state cabinets have approved and implemented the 10% EWS reservation.
A 3:2 majority of the Supreme Court of India upheld the validity of the 103rd constitutional amendment in Janhit Abhiyan vs Union of India on 7 November 2022. The amendment provided legal sanction for carving out 10% reservation for economically weaker sections of the unreserved classes to access education and government employment. In addition, affirmative action based on economics may have a long way to eradicate caste-based reservations since a 50% quota is not inviolable.
CRITERIA FOR ELIGIBILITY
The 103rd Constitutional Amendment Act provides for the reservation of 10% of seats in government jobs and educational institutions for individuals who belong to economically weaker sections of society. To be eligible for economic-based reservation, individuals must belong to a family with an annual income of less than Rs. 8 lakhs. Additionally, they must not own more than 5 acres of land. The Act also includes other criteria such as ownership of a residential flat of less than 1000 sq. ft or a residential plot of less than 100 sq. yards in notified municipalities and ownership of a residential plot of less than 200 sq. yards in areas other than notified municipalities.
The introduction of EWS reservation has several advantages. The main advantage of this amendment is that it aims to address the issue of economic inequality and provide equal opportunities for economically disadvantaged individuals to access education and employment. It helps to uplift the economically weaker sections of society and provide them with equal opportunities in government jobs and educational institutions. This can help to reduce poverty and increase social mobility. Additionally, the Act helps address the issue of economic disparities in society, as it targets economically weaker, regardless of their caste or religion.
However, the Act also has certain disadvantages. One of the main criticisms of the Act is that it may lead to an increase in the overall reservation percentage, which could negatively impact the representation of other marginalized groups such as SCs, STs, and OBCs. Additionally, the implementation of the Act has faced several challenges, such as determining the eligibility of individuals for EWS reservations and it may lead to corruption and abuse. Opposition to economic-based reservation comes primarily from those who get benefit from the current system of caste-based reservation. They argue that economic-based reservations would dilute the reservation benefits currently enjoyed by members of socially and economically disadvantaged groups.
While economic-based reservation may seem like a solution to address the issue of poverty, it’s a complex issue with multiple implications and it’s not a simple solution. It’s important to keep in mind that reservation alone is not the solution to India’s socioeconomic problems. There’s a need for a comprehensive approach that includes investments in education and skill development, creating jobs, and improving the overall economic conditions of the country. The EWS reservation in India is a significant step towards addressing economic disparities in society and providing equal opportunities for economically weaker sections of society in government jobs and educational institutions. However, the implementation of the Act has not been without its challenges, and it remains to be seen how effective the Act will be in achieving its intended goals.
Author’s Name: Nirlipta Mishra (Madhusudan Law University, Cuttack, Odisha)