Redrawing quota in Karnataka — a politically, legally fraught issue

A file photo of Kuruba community members who drove a herd of sheep to the Mini-Vidhana Soudha premises in Hubballi to seek Scheduled Tribe tag for the community.  

While Karnataka is seeing a heightened demand for re-engineering the reservation matrix, with Kuruba community demanding the Scheduled Tribe (ST) tag and Valmiki community seeking a hike in overall ST reservation quota, any inclusion and exclusion from quota is a legally and politically fraught issue, experts say.

For starters, the State government is yet to accept the socio-economic survey (caste census) report, which can provide ground for redrawing quota, even as many caste groups, especially Lingayats and Vokkaligas, are critical of the census methodology and outcome itself. Meanwhile, already on the table is H.N. Nagamohan Das Committee Report that recommends a hike in reservation for STs by 4%, taking it to 7%, and for Scheduled Castes (SCs) by 2%, taking it to 17%, in proportion to their population. If Kurubas are to be declared ST as per their demand, the quota for STs will have to be proportionally increased.


Breaching limit

The larger issue is also that the State has already hit the apex court set 50% cap on reservation and any hike poses a challenge. Seniors in the backward classes movement argue that the socio-economic survey should be the basis for reconstitution of the matrix, essentially demanding that communities that have progressed since availing of benefits be stripped of them to accommodate others who continue to be “backward”. This argument is particularly aimed at the Vokkaligas and Lingayats. However, leaders of these communities say they are prepared for even a legal challenge, depending on the outcome of the caste census.

Any attempt to push communities out of quota would face a big challenge. “Other backward classes (OBCs) make up about 52% of the State’s population, but enjoy 32% reservation. So any cut further is unfair and politically fraught,” said a senior OBC leader from the BJP.

This leaves the State government with the only option of increasing the quota beyond 50%, a recommendation by the Nagamohan Das committee as well.

One way out is through a Bill to increase reservation beyond the 50% limit passed in Parliament and including it under the IX Schedule of the Constitution, putting it beyond judicial review, like in the case of Tamil Nadu, experts said. However, some legal experts say this can be done at the State level. “Indira Sawhney judgment of the apex court that caps quota at 50% also says this can be relaxed in exceptional circumstances, The State government can use this argument,” said a retired Karnataka High Court judge.

C.S. Dwarakanath, former chairman of the Karnataka State Backward Classes Commission, argues for a complete reconstitution of the matrix based on the caste census. “There is no scientific rationale for classification of communities under various categories for reservation. This has only meant the dominant castes within the category enjoying all benefits at the cost of smaller communities,” he said.

Complex procedure

There are also complex procedural issues in including any community in the ST list. The Union government has to pass a Bill in the Lok Sabha and the President of India must give his assent. Given the complexity, the government may not be willing to do that right now, said many.

“Kurubas are essentially shepherds who are there in every State, though their names may vary. Any attempt by the Union government to list Kurubas in Karnataka as ST will only have a snowball effect across the country. Other STs are unlikely to quietly accommodate such a large community in their quota bracket,” said a senior OBC leader.

He added that Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa, while under pressure to respond to these demands, is unlikely to “touch the beehive”.

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Printable version | Nov 25, 2020 8:37:29 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/karnataka/redrawing-quota-a-politically-legally-fraught-issue/article32922736.ece

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