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SC questions rationale for fixing the income limit in EWS category

  • Posted By
    10Pointer
  • Categories
    Polity & Governance
  • Published
    13th Oct, 2021
  • Context

    The Supreme Court questioned the Centre’s rationale for fixing the income limit for inclusion in the Economically Weaker Sections category at Rs 8 lakh per year.

  • Background

    • In 2019, the Central government had extended EWS reservationin education and jobs to poorer sections with an annual income of less than Rs 8 lakh.
    • This is meant for sections of society not covered by any reservation.
    • In the latest development, SC was hearing a group of petitions challenging the:
      • 27% reservation for Other Backward Classes
      • 10% reservation for the EWS category in all-India quota seats in post-graduate medical courses.
    • From among the candidates who clear the National Eligibility Entrance Test, 15% seats in MBBS courses and 50% seats in MS and MD courses are filled through the all-India quota.
    • The petitioners, who are NEET aspirants, also questioned whether an annual income of Rs 8 lakh was a valid criterion for being included in the EWS category.
  • Analysis

    Questions asked by SC

    • Have the government done any exercise?
    • Have the government checked the GDP per capita for every State?’
    • Whether the government, without application of mind, had simply decided to extend the ‘creamy layer’ cap of Rs 8 lakh for Other Backward Classes (OBC) to the EWS quota also.
  • Why Court’s questioning holds significance?

    • The court’s questions hold significance as the 103rd Constitutional Amendment Act of 2019 has been challenged in the Supreme Court and is being examined by a larger bench.
      • The Act introduced the 10% EWS quota.
    • It has been challenged for making economic criterion the only ground under which the EWS reservation benefits will be granted.
    • The Supreme Court also asked whether the Centre had simply extended the income limit for the creamy layer among OBC to the EWS category as well.

    Need to refer to a larger bench

    • A reference to a larger Bench means that the legal challenge is an important one.
    • As per Article 145(3) of the Constitution, “the minimum number of Judges who are to sit for the purpose of deciding any case involving a substantial question of law as to the interpretation of this Constitution” shall be five.
    • The Supreme Court rules of 2013 also say that writ petitions that allege a violation of fundamental rights will generally be heard by a bench of two judges unless it raises substantial questions of law.
    • In that case, a five-judge bench would hear the case.
    • Laws made by Parliament are presumed to be constitutional until proven otherwise in court.

    Centre’s reply

    • The Centre said fixing a limit of Rs 8 lakh annual income for the EWS category is a matter of policy based on the National Cost of Living Index.
    • On the question of applicability of Rs 8 lakh everywhere in the country, the Centre replied that even within a state, there will be different parameters. For example
      • In Maharashtra, different parameters will be there for Gadchiroli and Mumbai
      • For UP, different parameters will be there for Ghaziabad, or Western UP or Behraich
  • Why the Law was challenged?

    The law was challenged primarily on two grounds.

    • Violating the Basic Structure of the Constitution:This argument stems from the view that the special protections guaranteed to socially disadvantaged groups is part of the Basic Structure and that the 103rd Amendment departs from this by promising special protections on the sole basis of economic status.
    • Violating the fundamental right to practise a trade/profession:Another challenge has been made on behalf of private, unaided educational institutions. They have argued that their fundamental right to practise a trade/profession is violated when the state compels them to implement its reservation policy and admit students on any criteria other than merit.
  • What is Constitution (103rd Amendment) Act, 2019?

    • The Constitution (103rd Amendment) Act, 2019, has amended two fundamental rights -Article 15 and Article 16 by inserting:
      • Article 15(6) enables the State to make special provisions for the advancement of any economically weaker section of citizens, including reservations in educational institutions. 
      • Article 16 (6) is added to provide reservations to people from economically weaker sections in government posts.

    The amendment aims to provide reservation to those who do not fall in 15(5) and 15 (4) (effectively, SCs, STs and OBCs) i.e. economically weaker sections for admission to educational institutions other than the minority educational institutions referred to in clause (1) of Article 30

  • How the Act treats unequals equally?

    • The income limit of Rs. Eight lakhs and the asset limits prescribed for determining economic backwardness are the same as the limits fixed for determining the ‘creamy layer’ for OBC.
    • This essentially means that the 103rd Amendment practically removes the difference between the OBC-NCL and the “EWS other than SC, ST and OBC-NCL”.
    • Creamy layer- whose yearly income is more than Rs 8 lakh or government employees of greater than class 3
    • Non-Creamy layer- Whose yearly income is below Rs 8 lakh or government employees of class 3 or below 3