The Rajasthan Government's decision to give a separate five per cent reservation to the Special Backward Class (SBC) without touching the 21 per cent quota available to Other Backward Classes and taking the overall reservation in jobs and education in the State to 54 per cent has left the Gujjar community dissatisfied as the step is susceptible to judicial scrutiny .
Gujjars, who have been agitating for reservation first as a Scheduled Tribe and later as an SBC, on Thursday described the quota provision crossing the 50-per cent limit mandated by the Supreme Court as “legally untenable”. They said the ruling Congress had followed the footsteps of the previous BJP regime, whose Bill was stayed by the Rajasthan High Court.
Gujjar supremo Kirori Singh Bainsla convened an urgent meeting of Gujjar Arakshan Samiti at Hindon, his native town in Karauli district, to deliberate on the issue and announced after its conclusion that a “Gujjar Mahapanchayat” would be organised shortly to decide the next course of action.
A visibly annoyed Col. Bainsla said Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot had resorted to exactly the same step which his predecessor had taken despite criticising the BJP regime's decision to go beyond the 50 per cent by clubbing the quota for Gujjars and a new Economically Backward Class in the same Bill.
The Samiti decided to adopt a policy of “wait and watch” for the next two months as the State Cabinet decision taken on Wednesday night will be put on hold for this period in compliance with the High Court's directions. While staying the previous legislation, the Court had asked the State Government to get a report from the OBC Commission before taking the decision.
The implementation of the reservation provision would be kept in abeyance for two months to enable anybody to approach the Court against the decision, according to the Cabinet note.
Col. Bainsla's associate Himmat Singh said nothing had stopped the State Government from carving out five per cent sub-quota for SBC from the 21 per cent reservation for OBCs which would have kept the total quota within 50 per cent. Another Gujjar leader, Roop Singh, said the only positive indication was that the OBC Commission had for the first time justified a separate quota for Gujjars.
The Opposition BJP tried to take credit for the decision with party's State president Arun Chaturvedi affirming that the BJP had taken the initiative four years ago and also passed a resolution for its inclusion in the Ninth Schedule of the Constitution. “The Congress has cheated Gujjars by not taking any action to legally safeguard its decision,” he said.
With only a year left for the Assembly elections, Mr. Gehlot has limited choices as the Congress is not in a position to displease the dominant Jats who are politically influential and enjoy a major share in the OBC reservation. Jats’ influence is visible in at least 10 of the 25 Lok Sabha constituencies in Rajasthan.
The Cabinet had on Wednesday decided to give a separate five per cent reservation to Gujjars and four other communities under the Special Backward Class (SBC) category, taking the overall reservation in jobs and education in the State to 54 per cent.
It accepted a recommendation of the OBC Commission and cleared the five per cent quota after adding the Gadaria/Gayari community to the SBC list in addition to the prevailing 49 per cent reservation.
The decision has taken the total quota beyond the 50 per cent limit set by the Supreme Court in the Indira Sawhney case of 1992.
Mr. Gehlot, who presided over the Cabinet meeting, made a reference to the judgment while affirming that the 50 per cent threshold could be crossed to give reservation to the communities living in remote areas and cut off from the mainstream.
“In the exceptional circumstances, quota can be given over and above the 50 per cent ceiling. The findings of the OBC Commission suggest that this is a fit case for taking the step,” Mr. Gehlot said after the Cabinet meeting.
A new class
The Commission, headed by former Rajasthan High Court Judge I. S. Israni, had identified the Gadaria community for inclusion in SBC and recommended five per cent reservation to the category in its report submitted to the State Government this past week. The SBC as a new class was created through a Bill introduced by the previous BJP regime, but the statute was later stayed by the High Court.
After initially demanding their inclusion in the Scheduled Tribe category, Gujjars have undertaken a series of agitations with the demand for a separate quota, affecting normal life in the State several times during the past few years. Protests staged by them led to disruption in road and rail traffic and affected the supply of essential commodities in the past.
The Cabinet took the decision for inclusion of five communities - Banjara/Baldia/Labana, Gadia Lohar/Gadolia, Gujjar/Gurjar, Raika/Raibari and Gadaria/Gayari - in the SBC for the new quota and asked the Personnel Department to amend the service rules for introducing the five per cent reservation.
Besides, the Cabinet also decided to reconstitute the State Economically Backward Class Commission, which would collect the quantifiable data in order to examine the possibility of giving reservation to the poor among the higher castes.