Explained: Q for Quota

Reservation in public educational institutions and government jobs is usually, at most, 50 per cent.

Written by Seema Chishti | New Delhi | Updated: November 19, 2014 8:27 am

Maharashtra has decided to appeal the Bombay High Court decision last week to put on hold the 16 per cent quota for Marathas in jobs and education. Seema Chishti breaks down quotas: the 50 per cent ceiling, and the breaches.

What is the ‘maximum’ reservation possible?

Reservation in public educational institutions and government jobs is usually, at most, 50 per cent.

Was there a limit at Independence?

In Constituent Assembly debates, especially the ones before Independence, there is firm commitment to providing reservation for SCs and STs, and a lot of discussion on reservation for religious minorities. But after Independence, there was no encouragement for communal reservations or reservations for any caste groups other than Dalits and tribals. The Constitution provides for 15 per cent reservation for SCs and 7.5 per cent for STs.

Who set the 50 per cent ceiling?

The Supreme Court, in the 1963 M R Balaji and others vs State of Mysore case. In 1991, the V P Singh government implemented the report of the Mandal Commission, which recommended 27 per cent reservation for OBCs, which when added to the original 22.5 per cent reservation, meant that 49.5 per cent seats would be reserved. In 1992, an eight-judge bench of the SC, including then Chief Justice M Venkatachaliah, upheld the 27 per cent OBC quota, and ruled that reservations should be limited to 50 per cent. It also said there should be no reservation for the OBC creamy layer.

Have some states broken the ceiling?

Yes, and they are under litigation. But Tamil Nadu has 69 per cent reservation in jobs and educational institutions.

How has Tamil Nadu got around the ceiling?

In 1994, the Centre included in the Ninth Schedule the Tamil Nadu Reservation Act of 1993, which ensures up to 69 per cent reservations. Ninth Schedule Acts were originally exempt from judicial review, but in 2007, the SC ruled that all laws could be reviewed if they violated Fundamental Rights.

Do states have religion-based quotas?

Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu have quotas for backward groups, which include quotas for Muslims — Tamil Nadu 3.5 per cent and Kerala 12 per cent. Besides, the Mandal Commission recognises Other Backward ‘Classes’, not ‘Castes’, and there are many non-Hindu castes which get reservation. However, in 2012, the Andhra Pradesh HC struck down the state’s decision to set aside 4 per cent seats for Muslims. In 2011, the Centre announced a 4.5 per cent quota for backward Muslims as a sub-quota in OBC quota. The matter is being heard. In 2009, the Ranganath Misra Commission asked for reservations for religious and linguistic minorities, but it was not accepted by the Centre.

How does reservation tie in with the Right to Equality?

Articles 15(4) and 16(4) allow a leg-up to backward and unrepresented groups in jobs and educational institutions. In case of legal challenge, governments are obliged to establish backwardness, which, along with a demonstration of disproportionate representation, is seen to make a good case.

Is there a ‘master list’ of backward groups?

There is a central list and several state lists. There is great diversity across states. A caste group defined as OBC in one state may be in the ‘general category’ in another. Rajputs are backward in Karnataka, but forwards in UP.

Who else wants quotas?

Differently-abled, LGBTs, war widows, displaced Kashmiri Pandits, economically backward upper castes, women, etc. In 1993, a Constitutional amendment provided for women’s reservations in local bodies. In 2010, Rajya Sabha passed a Bill on 33 per cent women’s reservation in Parliament but it is yet to be taken up by Lok Sabha.

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