Last week, a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court reopened the legal debate on sub-categorisation of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes for reservations, referring the issue to a larger Bench to decide. While this concerns SCs and STs, a Commission has been examining sub-categorisation of Other Backward Classes (OBC) for almost three years now.
OBCs are granted 27% reservation in jobs and education under the central government. The question of sub-categorisation 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. Read in Tamil
The Commission to Examine Sub-categorisation of Other Backward Classes took charge on October 11, 2017. It is headed by retired Delhi High Court Chief Justice G Rohini, includes Centre for Policy Studies director Dr J K Bajaj as member, and has two other ex-officio members. Initially constituted with a tenure of 12 weeks ending January 3, 2018, it was granted an extension recently. Until November 2019, the government has spent over Rs 1.70 crore on the Commission including salary and other expenses.
What are its terms of references?
It was originally set up with three terms of reference:
* 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 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.
The fourth term of reference 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.
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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. This could have huge political consequences and is likely to face a judicial review.
The current tenure of the Commission ends on January 31, 2021. Its budget is being drawn from the National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC) which was given constitutional status by the government in 2018.
Also read | Explained: The ‘quota within quota’ debate
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
As per the 2018-19 annual report of the Department of Personnel and Training (accessed online on August 28, 2020), OBC representation is 13.01% in group-A central government services, 14.78% in group-B, 22.65% in group-C (excluding safai karmacharis) and 14.46% in group-C (safai karmacharis).
According to an RTI-based report published in The Indian Express last year, there was not a single professor and associate professor appointed under the OBC quota in central universities. The data showed that 95.2% of the professors, 92.9% of associate professors and 66.27% of assistant professors were from the general category (which may also include SCs, STs and OBCs who had not availed the quota). At assistant professor level, representation of OBCs was just 14.38%.
In a meeting with the NCBC on July 21, 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.
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. Sources said the data of Socio Economic Caste Census (SECC) were not considered reliable. The Commission wrote to Minister of Social Justice and Empowerment Thawar Chand Gehlot on December 12, 2018, with a request 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.”
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.