The Sinho Commission report of 2010, which the Centre has been citing as the basis for its legislation to grant 10 per cent reservation to the Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) mainly among upper castes, never explicitly recommended a reservation for EWS but was only emphatic about ensuring that the EWS get access to all welfare schemes.
The report noted that economic criteria cannot be the indicator for identifying backward classes for reservation and that EWS can be identified by states “for extending welfare measures only”. Rajya Sabha passed The Constitution (One Hundred and Twenty-Fourth Amendment) Bill, 2019 for granting 10 per cent EWS reservation on Wednesday, a day after it was passed by Lok Sabha.
The three-member commission, headed by Major Gen (retd) S R Sinho, was instituted by the UPA government and had submitted its report in July 2010.
In the chapter reviewing the history of attempts to extend reservation to EWS, the report stated: “The Commission gathers the Constitutional and legal understanding that ‘Backward Classes’ cannot be identified for providing reservation in employment and admission in educational institutions on the basis of economic criteria and hence ‘Economically Backward Classes’ (EBCs) can be identified by the State for extending welfare measures only”.
Moreover, it said that “in order to provide any quantum of reservation to them (EBCs) two essential aspects need to be considered”. Listing the first aspect, the report notes that economic backwardness needs to be combined with social and educational backwardness for the purpose of reservation. And secondly, that the 50 per cent upper limit for reservation is binding on the State until the Supreme Court gives a different direction or a Constitutional amendment is made. The same points are repeated by the Commission in its final recommendations where it notes that “reservation in Indian context is a form of affirmative action.. for socially and educationally backward classes of citizens”.
The stand of the Commission with regard to reservation for EWS was reiterated in a Parliament reply by the NDA government itself in March 2015. In a written reply to a question by Lok Sabha MP from BJP Poonamben Maadam on whether the government proposed to give reservation in government jobs to EWS persons, Jitendra Singh, Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office, stated, “The Commission for Economically Backward Classes (CEBC) which submitted its Report to the Government on 22nd July, 2010 did not recommend the reservation for Economically Backward Classes.” The reply also cited Supreme Court’s Indra Sawhney order to state that “economic backwardness cannot be the sole criterion for providing reservation”.
Before the legislation was passed by Rajya Sabha on Wednesday, in its official version on the floor of the House, the government had referred to the Sinho Commission report and stated that the 2010 report recommended reservation to the EWS. It also said that the chairperson and two members of the Commission had stated in the report how they travelled across the country, consulted most state governments before taking their decision.
However, in its report, on the stand of the states, the Commission noted that, “The Commission obtained views of states/UTs on quantum of reservation and with the single exception of Rajasthan, most of the states have not framed any conclusive opinion about reservation to EBCs among General Category.” (Rajasthan government had in 2009 issued a notification for granting 14 per cent EWS reservation which was later set aside by the High Court).
The report noted that while all states were non-committal about EWS reservation, there was “remarkable unanimity on the issues of extending welfare measures to the EBCs among GCs” (general category). Moreover, both the National Commission for Minorities and the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes, whose views were elicited by the Sinho Commission, had held that economic status fluctuates and hence reservation, which was brought in to undo historic injustice, is not the solution. What is required is proper implementation of poverty alleviation schemes, both stated.
The Sinho Commission too recommended welfare measures for EWS including easy access to existing schemes in the areas of housing, healthcare, sanitation, skill development, and ensuring that EWS women in General Category avail jobs under NREGA and such children get special scholarships to pursue their education.
The Commission also recommended that for providing immediate relief for the 5.85 crore EWS population (about 1 crore families as per NSSO 2004-05 data) in General Category, the Union government should announce an initial relief package of Rs 10,000 crore (at the rate of Rs 10,000 per family) till the time a formal budgetary mechanism is created to launch dedicated welfare measures.