Panel may recommend splitting 27% OBC quota into three bands
A key government panel is likely to recommend radical changes to how the 27% reservation for Other Backward Classes (OBCs) is implemented in India for jobs and education, according to people familiar with the matter. If accepted by the Union social justice and empowerment ministry, these recommendations could dramatically change social and political equations in the country.
The ministry will, as part of the 100-day agenda for the new Modi government, take a call on whether to implement a proposal by the ‘Commission to Examine Sub-categorisation of Other Backward Classes for OBCs’ to divide the community into three sub-categories on the basis of how much benefit they have got from quotas.
Currently, all 2,633 OBC castes compete for the same 27% quota. The panel recommends breaking this up into three bands — those that have got no benefits should get 10%, those with some benefits 10%, and those with maximum benefits 7%.
In its first consultation paper, which has been reviewed by HT, the commission has said that 25% of benefits from OBC reservations have been availed by only 10 sub-castes. There are 983 sub-castes who have availed almost no benefits from reservations, it added.
The panel has gone by the caste data from before Independence (Census 1931) as the basis of population share of the sub-castes within OBCs.
No Census published since then has ever counted OBCs. The next census, in 2021, is slated to count OBCs for the first time in 90 years.
The commission, headed by former high court chief justice G Rohini, is giving the finishing touches to its report that will be submitted next month.
“We had sought an extension and will give it to the ministry before July 31,” justice Rohini told HT.
According to the consultation paper, the communities that have got almost no benefits of reservations include profession-based castes such as Kalaigars, a community that traditionally polishes tins; and Sikligars and Saranias, communities that traditionally sharpen knives; apart from several other marginalised groups.
“These are professions and occupations that are not just small in number but they haven’t got political representation,’’ said Dr JK Bajaj, a member of the committee.
For instance, there are the Budbudris of Andhra Pradesh and the Gosains, who were traditionally part of the castes associated with begging, he said. “It was heartening to see that even though these castes have got no benefits, there were one or two students that we found in institutes like the IITs who made it there,’’ Bajaj added.
The consultation paper says that in order to determine which castes had got the benefits of reservation, the panel went by 100,000 admissions in the last three years to educational institutes under the OBC quota — including the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), National Institutes of Technology (NITs), Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs), All-India Institutes of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), and Central universities. The committee also looked at 130,000 recruitments in central government that have taken place in the last five years.
To be sure, the method of calculating the equality or lack of it in benefits from reservations on the basis of number of sub-castes may not be accurate, as each sub-caste has a different share in population. Even the commission accepts this fact in the paper referred to above. “None of the available sources provide a reliable estimate of the population of the individual castes and communities included in the Central List. But, it is possible to reliably determine the relative population of large groups of castes…on the basis of available data from various sources”, it says.
When HT contacted Union minister for social justice and empowerment Thawar Chand Gehlot about the government’s plans, he said, “Let them first submit the study and then we will look at how the sub-categorisation has to be done.”
Reservation for OBCs, unlike that for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, was not initially guaranteed in the Constitution — and extends only to jobs and education, not to elected representatives. It draws its roots from the Mandal Commission, which was set up in 1979, and its recommendation for 27% OBC quota accepted by the central government in 1990. In 2006, the reservation was extended to institutions of higher education.
Any subsequent change to the contours of the OBC quota — as recommended by the commission for example — is likely to require a constitutional amendment, which needs the backing of two-thirds of Parliament and half of all state assemblies.
Upper-caste students and anti-quota groups have long opposed reservations, but the protests have been especially fierce against the implementation of OBC quotas, both in 1990 and in 2006. They argue that many OBC groups are upwardly mobile and socially dominant, don’t need state support in jobs and education, and that the presence of quotas hinders merit-based selection.
To be sure, economically well-off OBCs form what is known as a “creamy layer” — annual income of more than ~8 lakh — and are not eligible for quotas.
If accepted, the recommendations are also likely to have a major impact on politics, especially in north India where the rise of powerful OBC groups such as Yadavs defined the 1990s. Parties such as the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the Samajwadi Party (SP), for example, were successful in attracting the Yadavs and craft their own vote bases. In the south, too, politics in Tamil Nadu has been defined by Dravidian parties, such as the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and the Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, vying for the support of big OBC groups.
The commission, which was appointed by the President of India in October 2017, had the task of examining “the extent of inequitable distribution of benefits of reservation” among OBCs and working out “the mechanism, criteria, norms and parameters in a scientific approach for sub-categorisation” to correct alleged anomalies in the distribution of reservation.