In what is being described as a historic move, Parliament of India passed One hundred twenty-fourth amendment Bill 2019, which gave economically weaker upper castes 10% reservation in jobs and higher education.
A day after the bill was passed in the Lok Sabha, the Upper House of Parliament also gave its consent to the proposed amendment. Lok Sabha passed the bill with 323 votes in favor and 3 votes against the proposed amendment. In the Upper House, 165 members voted in favor of the bill while 7 voted against the bill.
The amendment seeks to add clause(6) in Article 15 and 16 which will enable the state to make special provisions for the advancement of economically weaker upper castes. Economically weaker sections mean those sections which would be notified by the state from time to time depending on the family income and other economic disadvantages. Currently, any household whose annual income is less than Rs. 8 lakh would be eligible for reservation.
The amendment would allow people from economically weaker sections of the society to get seats in educational institution including private institutions whether aided or unaided, except minority educational institutions covered under Article 30(1). Proposed clause (6) of Article 16 would grant reservation in appointments. Bill also made it clear that reservation in both jobs and educational institutions cannot extend beyond 10%.
Currently,49.5% of seats in educational institutions and government jobs have been reserved with 15% to Scheduled Castes, 7.5% to Scheduled Tribes and 27% to Other Backward Classes.
Ruling Government encountered stiff opposition from several parties in getting the bill passed and even those who supported the bill questioned true intention and timing of the ruling government to present such a legislation. Congress party supported the bill but were of the opinion that bill should be referred to a parliamentary committee for review and questioned the criteria to decide the economically weaker upper castes. JD(U), TRS, Shiv Sena, and SP were supporting the bill. AIADMK the largest party in the house after Congress walked out in protest.
Within 48 hours of parliament passing the constitutional amendment, a petition was filed in the Supreme Court of India challenging the same. Main grounds on which the amendment is challenged is that reservation cannot be over and above 50% and economic well being cannot be used to determine social backwardness. This ground is supported by the decision of a nine-judge bench of Supreme Court of India in 1992 in Indira Sawhney case.
Furthermore, another ground mentioned in the petition is that benefit of this amendment is only available to general candidates which violates Article 14 and imposing reservation in private unaided institutions is contrary to Supreme Court judgment in TMA Pai and PA Inamdar case.
It should be mentioned here that the entire episode took place very quickly which surprizing keeping in mind the pace at Indian systems work. Only time will tell what will be the fate of this amendment
Keeping in mind that Lok Sabha elections are just around the corner, severe criticism of the economic policies of the government by economic experts and top officials resigning from key posts indicates that government is trying to woo the people belonging to upper castes for political mileage. Granting reservation in admission and jobs will deteriorate the quality of professional standards in the country, which will be harmful for the country in the long run. In my humble opinion giving reservation in its present form will not uplift those who need it. A more suitable option would be to grant certain economic benefits to the weaker section of the society such as substantial reduction in tuition fees in educational institutions, special training courses in jobs. These would inculcate necessary skills in deprived and backward sections of the society and bring them at par with other sections of the society. This will promote a sense of competition which would lead to innovation and improvement in the quality of human resource of the country and overall development of the nation.