BJP-ruled Rajasthan’s assembly ratified two controversial bills on Tuesday providing education and job quotas to the pastoral Gujjar community among other groups as well as the economically backward classes (EBCs), a decision that some experts say may not stand legal scrutiny.
The move comes days after the RSS called for a review of India’s reservation system, a subject that has bubbled up in recent weeks with caste-riddled Bihar preparing for polls and the powerful Patel community in Gujarat demanding a share of the quota pie.
The assembly also asked the state government to ensure that the bills, providing 5% reservation to the Gujjars and four other castes under the Special Backward Classes (SBC) category and a 14% quota to the EBCs, get constitutional approval.
Several legal experts HT spoke to said the decision could face challenges with the reservation umbrella in the state spreading to 68%, surpassing a 50%-limit set by the Supreme Court a few years ago.
“It is mere eyewash,” said retired high court judge Panachand Jain. “The government has said it will place the bill in Parliament to put it in the ninth schedule (of the Constitution), but it is not an easy task as they will have to bring a constitutional amendment.”
The development comes against the backdrop of a decade-old campaign for reservation by the Gujjars, with dozens of people being killed since 2007 in clashes between them, the Meena community that opposed the demand, as well as police.
"We have struggled for this for the last 11-12 years and lost 72 people, and finally we have got the reservation,” said Gujjar leader Kirori Singh Bainsla.
Quotas are the rule in government jobs and schools in India with politics often holding sway over who gets benefits, while critics urge for a transition to need-based programmes that provide advantages based on economic or geographic conditions.
Rajasthan’s parliamentary affairs minister Rajendra Rathore expressed confidence that the state government decision would face no legal hurdles.
“We have brought these bills after proper legal analysis on the basis of the constitutional preamble and looking at other fronts,” he said. “Besides, reservation above 50% is provided in other states like Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, and Orissa.”
While India’s judiciary has repeatedly tried to set a bar on caste quotas, Parliament has issued amendments to protect and even expand the system.
States like Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh have stretched the reservation cover beyond the law-mandated threshold, but several such steps have been challenged in court.
Congress leader and former chief minister Ashok Gehlot said the state government was just trying to create an “illusion” as reservation based on economic status cannot be provided without changes to the Constitution.