SC questions ₹8L annual income limit for EWS quota
The Supreme Court on Thursday questioned the methodology adopted by the Union government in fixing ₹8 lakh as the annual income limit to identify the economically weaker section (EWS) for providing 10% quota in public jobs and educational institutions.
Seeking relevant points that led to determination, a bench, headed by justice Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud launched a probe into government’s fixation of income criteria while hearing a clutch of petitions that challenged the 10% quota for EWS within All-India Quota (AIQ) seats in medical admissions.
The 10% EWS quota was introduced under the 103rd Constitution (Amendment) Act, 2019 which is under challenge before a five-judge Constitution bench of the Supreme Court.
As the Act has not been stayed, the government issued a notification on July 29 introducing 10% EWS quota along with 27% quota for other backward classes (OBC) within the All-India Quota (AIQ) seats for postgraduate medical courses from this academic year. By this decision, 2,500 PG seats in government medical colleges would go to OBCs and 1,000 to EWS. This decision was challenged in a clutch of petitions that came up for hearing on Thursday.
The bench said, “We have to probe you (government) on what exercise you did before arriving at this decision or you simply lifted creamy layer criteria applicable to other backward classes (OBC) and applied it to EWS.”
The income criterion of ₹8 lakh fixed by the Centre was one of the grounds taken by the petitioners to question the July 29 decision. Senior advocate Arvind Datar arguing the petitions said, “Statistics show that the per capita income in states differs widely - Goa is the state having the highest per capita income of almost ₹4 lakh whereas Bihar is at the bottom with ₹40,000. Therefore, determining EWS for all-India level requires careful study by an expert committee, so that the ends of social justice are attained. They have not shown whether any such exercise was done and if so, by whom.”
Datar argued that for this year, EWS reservation should not be given effect in the absence of any criteria explaining the reservation. He referred to a government order of January 17, 2019 which said income from all sources will be counted for EWS reservation. However, in August 2021, another government communication referred to the Commission for Economically Backward Classes headed by retired Major General SR Sinho that formed the basis for providing EWS reservation by fixing ₹8 lakh as the income limit.
Additional Solicitor General (ASG) KM Nataraj appearing for the Centre told the court that the criteria adopted can be explained only by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment and Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT), which has not been represented by the petitioners. He was appearing for the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. On instructions, he stated that the figure of ₹8 lakh was a policy decision of the government based on the National Cost of Living Index. He said the creamy layer fixed for exclusion of the advanced among the OBCs was also ₹8 lakh as per last revision in 2017.
The bench said, “You cannot apply the criteria for OBC and apply it to EWS. The OBCs will get reservation if they earn below ₹8 lakh and are socially and educationally backward, so they have to fulfil twin criteria. But with EWS, we are purely dealing with economic backwardness of persons who are forward communities.”
The court allowed the ministry of social justice and empowerment and the DoPT to be joined as parties to petition and sought detailed response by Oct 21, the next date of hearing.