While the generous income cut-off of Rs 8 lakh per annum to identify beneficiaries of the reservation policy for Economically Weaker Sections (EWS/EBC), which is the same as the creamy layer cut-off for Other Backward Classes (OBC), has been much disputed, a look at the Sinho Commission report shows that it had clearly ruled out the use of creamy layer as the cut-off for EWS.
The panel had noted that the “concept of creamy layer among OBCs included economic backwardness compounded with their social and educational backwardness”.
While talking of purely identifying EWS beneficiaries for welfare schemes (and not specifically for reservation), it recommended that such a list should include families in the General Category (GC) that are Below Poverty Line (BPL), or whose annual family income from all sources is below the taxable limit.
This observation is made in the 2010 report submitted by the three-member commission whose terms of reference included suggesting “criteria for identification of EBCs”. The report is yet to be made public.
In its final recommendations, while considering whether creamy layer cut-off for OBCs can be used for identifying EWS beneficiaries for welfare schemes, the commission noted that “among EBCs, economic backwardness is the major concern” while for OBCs economic backwardness is “compounded with their social and educational backwardness”.
Stressing on the “need to follow [a] ‘bottom-up’ approach to ensure benefits reaching the neediest one”, the commission recommended that instead of taking the income limit for creamy layer, “all BPL families among GC and all those families among GC whose annual family income from all sources is below taxable limit (currently Rs 1.6 lakh per annum and may be revised from time to time) should be identified as EBC”. In the latter category, the report stated, only the combined income of husband and wife is to be considered.
The government’s Bill, however, identifies EWS as those whose gross family income from all sources is up to Rs 8 lakh. This is the same as the existing creamy layer cut-off for OBCs —- creamy layer is an income ceiling specified so that the relatively well-off among OBC families do not get the benefit of reservation.
The 124th Constitutional Amendment Bill for granting 10 per cent EWS reservation was passed by both Houses of Parliament this week but several members and political parties raised the issue of how the Rs 8-lakh cut-off subverts the principle of social justice.
The Nationalist Congress Party, in an official statement, said that the cut-off of Rs 8 lakh will not benefit the truly poor families but serve to help the upper caste middle class. Congress Rajya Sabha member Kapil Sibal said that the legislation discriminates against the EWS among Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, as even if they earn Rs 15,000 they will not get reservation under EWS category. But people from upper caste families who earn Rs 66,000 a month can avail reservation benefit in jobs and education, he said.
Congress leader Anand Sharma said, “The 10-per cent reservation covers 98 percent people of the country. Before coming to the session, I talked to a lot of economists and they told me that going by the current numbers, it would take 800 years to fulfill this promise.”