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Sub-categorisation of OBCs explained: What a Commission has found so far

In September last year, a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court reopened the legal debate on sub-categorisation of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes for reservations.

Written by Shyamlal Yadav | New Delhi |
Updated: February 5, 2021 11:34:17 am
Sub-categorisation of OBCs: what a Commission has found so farIn September last year, a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court reopened the legal debate on sub-categorisation of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes for reservations. (Express file photo)

On January 21, the Centre has extended the tenure of The Commission to Examine Sub-categorisation of Other Backward Classes (OBCs) headed by Justice G Rohini, former Chief Justice of Delhi High Court. The commission now has until July 31 to submit its report.

What is sub-categorisation of OBCs?

OBCs are granted 27% reservation in jobs and education under the central government. In September last year, a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court reopened the legal debate on sub-categorisation of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes for reservations. The debate arises out of the perception that only a few affluent communities among the over 2,600 included in the Central List of OBCs have secured a major part of this 27% reservation. The argument for sub-categorisation — or creating categories within OBCs for reservation — is that it would ensure “equitable distribution” of representation among all OBC communities.

To examine this, the Rohini Commission was constituted on October 2, 2017. At that time, it was given 12 weeks to submit its report, but has been given several extensions since, the latest one being the 10th. The other member in the Commission is former journalist Jitendra Bajaj, director of the Centre for Policy Studies. Before the Rohini Commission was set up, the Centre had granted constitutional status to the National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC).

What are the Commission’s terms of reference?

It was originally set up with three terms of reference:

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* To examine the extent of inequitable distribution of benefits of reservation among the castes or communities included in the broad category of OBCs with reference to such classes included in the Central List;

* To work out the mechanism, criteria, norms and parameters in a scientific approach for sub-categorisation within such OBCs;

* To take up the exercise of identifying the respective castes or communities or sub-castes or synonyms in the Central List of OBCs and classifying them into their respective sub-categories.

A fourth term of reference was added on January 22, 2020, when the Cabinet granted it an extension:

* To study the various entries in the Central List of OBCs and recommend correction of any repetitions, ambiguities, inconsistencies and errors of spelling or transcription.

This was added following a letter to the government from the Commission on July 30, 2019. “In process of preparing the sub-categorised central list of OBCs, the Commission has noted several ambiguities in the list as it stands now. The Commission is of the opinion that these have to be clarified/rectified before the sub-categorised central list is prepared,” the Commission wrote.

What progress has it made so far?

In its letter to the government on July 30, 2019, the Commission wrote that it is ready with the draft report (on sub-categorisation). It is widely understood that the report could have huge political consequences and face a judicial review.

Following the latest term of reference given (on January 22, 2020) to the Commission, it is studying the list of communities in the central list. In an RTI response to The Indian Express, the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment said on Wednesday that the Rohini Commission on September 29, 2020 asked for copies of advisories from NCBC regarding some OBC communities in the central list from Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, and Daman and Diu, and the Ministry forwarded this request to the NCBC in October.

How smooth has its work been?

A hurdle for the Commission has been the absence of data for the population of various communities to compare with their representation in jobs and admissions. The Commission wrote to Minister of Social Justice and Empowerment Thawar Chand Gehlot on December 12, 2018, requesting for an appropriate Budget provision for a proposed all-India survey for an estimate of the caste-wise population of OBCs. But on March 7, 2019 (three days before the Lok Sabha poll schedule was announced), Justice Rohini wrote to Gehlot: “We have now decided not to undertake such survey at this stage.”

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On August 31, 2018, then Home Minister Rajnath Singh had announced that in Census 2021, data of OBCs will also be collected, but since then the government has been silent on this, whereas groups of OBCs have been demanding enumeration of OBCs in the Census.

The Rohini Commission operates out of an office at Vigyan Bhawan Annexue and its expenses are borne by the NCBC. According to information provided by the NCBC under the RTI Act to The Indian Express on Tuesday, until December 2020, over Rs 1.92 crore have been spent on the Commission including salary, consultant fee and other expenses.

What have its findings been so far?

In 2018, the Commission analysed the data of 1.3 lakh central jobs given under OBC quota over the preceding five years and OBC admissions to central higher education institutions, including universities, IITs, NITs, IIMs and AIIMS, over the preceding three years. The findings were: 97% of all jobs and educational seats have gone to just 25% of all sub-castes classified as OBCs; 24.95% of these jobs and seats have gone to just 10 OBC communities; 983 OBC communities — 37% of the total — have zero representation in jobs and educational institutions; 994 OBC sub-castes have a total representation of only 2.68% in recruitment and admissions.

What is the extent of OBC recruitment in central jobs?

As per the report submitted to the NCBC by the Department of Personnel and Training on July 24, 2020, OBC representation is 16.51 % in group-A central government services, 13.38 % in group-B, 21.25 % in group-C (excluding safai karmacharis) and 17.72 % in group-C (safai karmacharis). This data was for only 42 ministries/departments of the central government.

In a meeting with the NCBC on July 21 last year, Home Minister Amit Shah was told that a number of posts reserved for OBCs were being filled by people of general category as OBC candidates were declared “NFS” (None Found Suitable). As reported in The Indian Express quoting sources, Shah has asked the NCBC to collect countrywide data. Sources say that NCBC is yet to collect and process the data of the “NFS”.

This week, the government told Lok Sabha in response to a question from T R Baalu that revision of the income limit for the creamy layer for the OBCs is under consideration.

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