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In what is seen as a populist measure ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the Central government is aiming to introduce a ten per cent reservation for those belonging to economically weaker sections of society.
But what is the extent of the reservation? And more importantly, who can benefit from the 10% reservation? We look to The Constitution (One Hundred and Twenty-Fourth Amendment) Bill, 2019, introduced by Dr. Thaawarchand Gehlot, Minister of Social Justice and Empowerment in the Lok Sabha today, for answers.
The Statement of Objects and Reasons of the Bill states that have people from economically weaker sections of the society have largely remained excluded from attending the higher educational institutions and public employment on account of their financial incapacity to compete with the persons who are economically more privileged.
Reference is made to Article 46 of the Constitution of India, a Directive Principle that urges the government to protect the educational and economic interests of the weaker sections of society. While socially disadvantaged sections have enjoyed affirmative action, no such benefit was provided to the economically weaker sections, the Bill states.
“With a view to fulfil the mandate of article 46, and to ensure that economically weaker sections of citizens to get a fair chance of receiving higher education and participation in employment in the services of the State, it has been decided to amend the Constitution of India.”
To this end, Article 15 is sought to be amended to provide reservations to economically weaker sections for admission to educational institutions including private educational institutions, whether aided or unaided by the State, other than the minority educational institutions referred to in clause (1) of Article 30. This reservation is capped at ten per cent.
However, it seems that this part of the amendment may be contrary to the verdict delivered by a seven-judge Bench of the Supreme Court in PA Inamdar v. State of Maharashtra. More specifically, the fact that the Centre wants to bring unaided private institutions under the purview of the amendment, could be problematic. This judgment, delivered in 2005, held that the government cannot impose reservations in private, unaided educational institutions. It states,
“The State cannot insist on private educational institutions which receive no aid from the State to implement State’s policy on reservation for granting admission on lesser percentage of marks, i.e. on any criterion except merit.”
Apart from this, Article 16 is sought to be amended to provide reservations to people from economically weaker sections in government posts.
As of now, it is not certain as to who can qualify as a person belonging to “economically weaker sections”. An explanation in the amendment states,
“For the purposes of this article and article 16, “economically weaker sections” shall be such as may be notified by the State from time to time on the basis of family income and other indicators of economic disadvantage.”
Therefore, it is unclear as to whether or not the reported Rs 8 lakh per annum qualification for availing the reservation is accurate. For now, we wait and watch.
Read the full text of the Bill: