EWS quota: No mathematical precision to determine income ceiling, Centre tells Supreme Court

These are matters of policy in which courts need not interfere, the government said. It was not necessary to have different income scales for different cities, states and regions as economic conditions keep changing with time, it told the apex court
In matters of reservation, there cannot be mathematical precision to determine an income ceiling to identify the poor, the Centre told the Supreme Court, justifying its decision to introduce 10% quota for EWS. (Archive)
In matters of reservation, there cannot be mathematical precision to determine an income ceiling to identify the poor, the Centre told the Supreme Court, justifying its decision to introduce 10% quota for EWS. (Archive)
Published on Oct 27, 2021 12:28 AM IST
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ByAbraham Thomas

New Delhi: In matters of reservation, there cannot be mathematical precision to determine an income ceiling to identify the poor, the central government told the Supreme Court on Tuesday, justifying its decision to introduce 10% quota for people coming from families with annual income of less than 8 lakh.

These are matters of policy in which courts need not interfere, the government said. It was not necessary to have different income scales for different cities, states and regions as economic conditions keep changing with time, it told the apex court. A broad criterion applicable to the entire country should be taken as the basis for providing reservation for economically weaker sections, the central government said in an affidavit.

The affidavit was filed in response to a bunch of petitions filed by some doctors who have opposed quotas of 27% for other backward classes (OBCs) and 10% for economically weaker sections (EWS) in the all-India quota seats for postgraduate medical and dental courses from this academic session. The response came ahead of the hearing on the petitions on Thursday.

The bench of justices Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud, Vikram Nath and BV Nagarathna had raised queries last week on the implementation of the 10% EWS quota introduced in January 2019 by the 103rd Constitution Amendment Act. The Court sought to know what study was done to arrive at an income threshold of 8 lakh to identify the poor uniformly across the country.

The bench asked whether per capita GDP, purchasing power, and cost of living index that varied across states was taken into account before arriving at this figure. The Centre was also asked to justify the introduction of OBC and EWS quotas that breached the 50% ceiling in reservation fixed by the Supreme Court’s 1992 decision in the Indira Sahwney case, as the all-India quota seats already provide for 22.5% reservation for Scheduled casts and Scheduled Tribes.

The income ceiling was based on “the fact that this is the criteria for determining the creamy layer for OBCs,” the social justice and empowerment ministry said in its response.

It relied on a 2010 report prepared by Sinho Commission that examined the determination of economic backwardness and concluded that the existing criteria for identification of the creamy layer could be extended to identify economically backward classes (EBC).

The Sinho Commission report was not the sole basis to arrive at the 8 lakh figure, it said. The criteria for EWS reservation announced by an order on January 17, 2019, included many other exclusions, such as limitations on farm landholdings, and size of residential flats and plots.

On the Court’s query whether variable income in rural and urban areas was taken into account, the Centre said: “The determination has to be made on broad probabilities and it is impossible to achieve perfection or mathematical precision.”

The central government agreed that purchasing power differed from urban to rural areas, and even within cities and regions, but said that the sectors meant for EWS reservation – students in higher education institutions and those for employment – constantly migrate from rural to urban areas.

“This factor of migration, especially for studies, would obviate the need for separate income criteria for rural and urban areas,” it said. “With efflux of time, economic situation of a district, region, state may keep changing…The cost of living within the state varies in different parts.” In this scenario, “the broad criteria as applicable to the country alone have to be taken into consideration.”

Even the distinction between poor in metropolitan and other cities had been accounted for by identifying EWS as besides the income limit, a family should not possess over five acres of agricultural land, own a residential flat of 1000 sq. ft or more, or own a residential plot of 100 sq. yards and above for notified municipalities and 200 sq. yards for non-notified municipalities.

“What cutoff criteria is to be provided is largely within the realm of government policy,” it said. “As long as the classification is based on some material, the same falls within the realm of policy and ought not to be interfered with.”

The affidavit also questioned the right of the petitioners to question the EWS reservation, and said an attempt is being made by them to deprive eligible EWS candidates and to corner the seats contrary to the constitutional mandate and obligation under the 103rd Constitution Amendment.

To ensure that EWS and OBC reservation does not deprive other general category candidates, the Centre said that in the last six years, the total MBBS seats have been increased by 56%, while post graduate seats were hiked by 80% to make up for the seats lost to reserved candidates. On the breach of the 50% ceiling, the Centre submitted that the Indira Sahwney judgment came in the context of reservation for socially and educationally backward classes, and not EWS.

The decision of the government to introduce OBC and EWS reservation in medical and dental courses was made applicable to 50% postgraduate and 15% undergraduate all-India quota seats. The government’s announcement of July 29 had said, “This decision would benefit every year nearly 1500 OBC students in MBBS and 2500 OBC students in PG and also around 550 EWS students in MBBS and around 1000 EWS students in PG.”

This decision was challenged in court by over 40 doctors aspiring to postgraduate admissions.

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Thursday, January 20, 2022