Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Thursday spoke of a broad-based national consensus to decide on the next step in view of the Supreme Court’s interim order on OBC reservations in central institutions of higher education. He said the government would consult political parties to evolve such a consensus. No date, however, has been fixed for the meeting so far as he was occupied with the SAARC Summit, he said on the sidelines of the Civil Investiture ceremony at Rashtrapati Bhavan on Thursday.
Reacting to queries, the PM told reporters that he could not commit himself to any position on the caste-based census as the government had “not applied its mind” on the issue.
“I cannot say yes, I cannot say no,” he told reporters on the sidelines of the Civil Investiture ceremony at Rashtrapati Bhavan on Thursday even as his own party, the Congress, reflected divergent opinions on the subject.
The PM’s comments came even as the Law Ministry, in an internal note, said that the operation of the law has been stayed. The Ministry gave its opinion in the wake of the SC order that it was not desirable to reserve seats for OBCs and that the population of various castes was configured on the basis of the 1931 census.
There has been considerable confusion in and outside the government on the twin issues of caste-based census and whether the SC order amounted to a stay or not.
Earlier this week, Congress spokesman Satyavrat Chaturvedi opposed caste-based census as divisive. But Jayanti Natarajan, another spokesperson, said the party was committed to the principle of social justice and would take a stand after consulting other UPA allies on the matter.
On his part, on March 30, Veerappa Moily---who headed the Oversight Committee on implementing the quota regime—wrote to the PM, Congress president Sonia Gandhi and HRD Minister Arjun Singh, emphasizing that the apex court has not stayed implementation of quotas and the Centre can proceed with it. In his six page letter, Moily said that the Court has only said that it would be desirable to keep in hold the operation of the Act and it would be permissible for the Centre to initiate process for determining on a broad based foundation the OBC. He saw the verdict as ``advisory’’ and not mandatory in nature.
Despite this, if the Centre had any doubt, it could, he wrote, ``think of filing a civil revision petition for advance hearing or for referring the mater to a constitutional bench as the matter in question contradicts the decision taken by a larger constitutional bench in the Mandal case.’’ He said it would be futile to go in for review as the scope of review is limited as the judges tend to dispose of such petitions in the chamber itself. Meanwhile, the Centre may also recourse to some process to initiate or continue the process of determining the OBCs, he said. In this context, he also noted that had the creamy layer been excluded from the statute, the Court may not have intervened in the matter.