The government plans to bring a larger section of other backward classes (OBCs) under the reservation net by relaxing the annual income ceiling that excludes them from these benefits from Rs 6 - 8 lakh.
The proposal — part of a cabinet note prepared by the ministry of social justice and empowerment — indicates another attempt by the BJP to woo OBCs in states going to polls early next year, especially in Uttar Pradesh where they make up 40% of the population.
OBCs are at present entitled to a 27% quota in public-sector jobs and higher education if they earn Rs 6 lakh or less a year. Those who earn above this cap — referred to as the ‘creamy layer’ — are not eligible.
The cabinet is likely to approve the proposal after Parliament’s monsoon session gets over on August 12, official sources said.
OBCs make up 52% of India’s population, according to a 1980 report of the Mandal commission — set up to identify socially or educationally backward sections for quota considerations. The report drew the number from the 1931 census. The findings of a caste-based census conducted in 2011, the first in 80 years, are not out.
The National Sample Survey Organisation in 2006 put the OBC population at 41% but this is not considered accurate by many as the NSSO looked at consumption expenditure and not population.
The Congress’ Manish Tewari called it a “move to deflect attention from the BJP’s anti-backward, anti-Dalit and anti-poor credentials”. Naresh Agarwal of the Samajwadi Party, in power in UP, refused to comment.
Political commentators called it an image-makeover exercise after Rashtriya Swayamsangh Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat’s remarks in September — before the Bihar elections — calling for a review of the reservation system, though he later clarified that the Sangh was not in favour of scrapping quotas.
The last revision of the creamy layer income cap was in 2013 when it was increased from Rs 4.5 lakh to Rs 6 lakh.
In May 2015, the department of personnel and training requested the ministry to re-examine the criterion for determining the ‘creamy layer’ for OBCs. The ministry gave the job to the National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC), which recommended that the ceiling be raised to Rs 15 lakh per annum.
The ministry revised this to Rs 8.16 lakh, and a source said the figure “may be appropriately rounded off”.
“The NCBC recommendation was based on the salaries of group A officers, a certain level of defence forces and paramilitary officers, etc. We have revised the income limit based on Consumer Price Index,” said an official.
Ashok Kumar Saini, a member of the NCBC, said, “Even after 23 years of caste-based reservation, data reveals the representation of OBCs is 0-12% in many departments. This is due to the unrealistic determination of annual income for the creamy layer limit.”
But, he added, a revision to Rs 8 lakh “will also not serve the purpose and will be equally unrealistic”.