The story so far: Last week, the Maharashtra government had a setback when the Supreme Court directed the State to release the schedule for local civic polls across the state within two weeks, upholding its stay on reservations for Other Backward Classes (OBC).
Local body elections in Maharashtra have been on hold since the apex Court stayed the 27 per cent reservation for the OBC community in December 2021. The Court has stated that it will decide on the issue after elections take place. The Court has similarly stayed 27 per cent reservation for OBCs in local body polls in Madhya Pradesh.
What is the reservation for OBCs in India?
First defined in the 1980 Mandal Commission report, OBCs among Hindus were identified based on socio-educational field surveys, lists of OBCs notified by various State governments, the 1961 Census report, and extensive touring of the country. Among non-Hindus, the caste system was not found to be an inherent part of the religion. However, for equality, untouchables who converted from Hinduism and occupational communities known by their traditional hereditary jobs, such as the Gujjars, Dhobis, and Telis, were also identified as OBCs.
The report estimated that OBCs constituted nearly 52 per cent of India’s population, excluding Scheduled Castes/Tribes (SC/STs.) Hence, for the inclusion of OBCs, the report recommended a 27 per cent reservation for these communities in government services and central/State educational institutions. That reservation was also made applicable to promotion quotas at all levels.
However, children of government officials at higher posts, civil servants, high-ranking armed forces officers, professionals in trade, and so-called ‘creamy layer’ individuals are to be excluded from OBC reservations.
According to a 2017 order issued by the Centre, creamy layer individuals are those who have an annual income of Rs 8 lakhs or more, disqualifying them from benefits under the OBC quota. The ‘creamy layer’ threshold has been gradually increased from Rs 1 lakh/year in 1993 to Rs 2.5 lakhs, Rs 4.5 lakhs, Rs 6 lakhs and now Rs 8 lakhs
Currently, SC/ST communities have a 22.5 per cent reservation, OBCs have 27 per cent and members of the Economically Weaker Section (EWS) have a 10 per cent reservation in government jobs and educational institutions. However, the EWS reservation has run into legal troubles in several States. Only, Uttarakhand, Gujarat, Karnataka, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Mizoram, Delhi, J&K, Goa, Assam, Telangana, and Andhra Pradesh have a 10 per cent EWS quota, as of 2021.
State-wise reservation for OBCs
In 2021, the Parliament passed the 127th Constitutional amendment which allowed States and Union Territories to prepare their own list of socially and educationally backward classes (SEBC).
Each State has listed communities which are recognised as OBCs and accorded them reservations accordingly. As per government records, here is the data about the OBC quota in government services by State:
- Andhra Pradesh: 29 per cent
- Assam: 27 per cent
- Bihar: 33 per cent
- Chhattisgarh: 14 per cent
- Delhi: 27 per cent
- Goa: 27 per cent
- Gujarat: 27 per cent
- Haryana: 10 per cent in (Class 1 &2 govt jobs), 27 per cent (Class 3 & 4 govt jobs)
- Himachal Pradesh: 12 per cent (Class 1 &2), 18 per cent (Class 3 &4)
- J&K: 25 per cent
- Jharkhand: 14 per cent
- Karnataka: 32 per cent
- Kerala: 40 per cent
- Madhya Pradesh: 14 per cent
- Maharashtra: 19 per cent
- Manipur: 17 per cent
- Odisha: 27 per cent
- Punjab: 12 per cent in direct recruitment, 5 per cent in educational institutions
- Rajasthan: 21 per cent
- Sikkim: 21 per cent
- Tamil Nadu: 50 per cent
- Uttar Pradesh: 27 per cent
- Uttarakhand: 14 per cent
- West Bengal: 17 per cent
- Andaman & Nicobar: 38 per cent
- Chandigarh: 27 per cent
- Daman & Diu: 27 per cent
- Dadra & Nagar Haveli: 5 per cent
- Puducherry: 13 per cent
There is no reservation for OBCs in Lakshadweep, Tripura, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh due to the absence of any citizens belonging to OBC communities.
OBC quota in medical admissions
In July 2021, Centre announced a 27 per cent quota for OBCs and a 10 per cent quota for the EWS category for undergraduate and postgraduate medical and dental courses from the academic year 2021-22 onwards. This decision was later upheld by the Supreme Court on January 7, 2022.
Amid massive protests by doctors and medical students over the delay in NEET-PG counselling, a two-judge SC Bench of Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and A.S. Bopanna allowed the counselling process to begin including the two quotas. However, the Court is specifically examining the feasibility of having a Rs. 8 lakh cap to avail the EWS quota for PG medical admissions.
This decision provided relief to doctors already burdened by the increased caseload due to the onset of the Omicron wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. Moreover, this is the first time the apex court has upheld the EWS quota which has been challenged for constitutionality in several High Courts.
OBC quota in elections
To ensure political representation, of the 543 seats in Lok Sabha, 84 seats are reserved for SCs, 47 seats for STs and 2 for Anglo-Indian members (nominated by the President). SC/ST communities have reservations in their respective State Assemblies, councils and local bodies too. However, for OBC communities, there are no separate political reservations in State legislatures or local bodies.
In a bid to alter this, the Maharashtra government passed an Ordinance to introduce a 27-per-cent reservation for OBCs in Zilla Parishads and Panchayat Samitis. However, in December 2021, the SC struck down the Ordinance citing the 50-per-cent threshold rule for reservation.
In Indira Sawhney vs Union of India (1992), the Supreme Court had upheld the 50-per-cent ceiling on reservations, thereby limiting states’ powers. The nine-judge Bench in the case also established factors such as caste, social status, and income to ascertain backwardness. The Bench also introduced the concept of the ‘creamy layer’ to exclude more wealthy individuals from seeking the benefit of reservations.
Breaching the 50-per-cent ceiling
The Indira Sawhney judgement had also been cited by the Supreme Court when it stayed Madhya Pradesh’s endeavour to establish a 27 per cent reservation for OBCs in local body polls. Moreover, the apex court also struck down the Tamil Nadu Special Reservation Act, 2021 which provided a 10.5 per cent reservation to Vanniyars within the existing quota for OBCs, stating that there was ‘no basis to treat Vanniyar as a separate group compared to the others’.
Despite the apex court upholding the 50-per-cent ceiling, many communities have sought separate reservations at the State and Central levels across India. The most notable protests have included those of the Gujjars (Rajasthan) seeking their reclassification from OBC to STs and five-per-cent reservation. Similarly, Patidars (Gujarat) and Jats (UP, Rajasthan, Delhi) have been seeking inclusion as OBCs.
Marathas – members of Maharashtra’s most dominant caste — sought separate reservations for the community and have held massive protests over the years. In 2018, the Maharashtra government constituted a Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBC) category and accorded a 16 per cent reservation to Marathas in government jobs and educational institutions. This law was later struck down as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.
Since the inclusion of the 10-per-cent EWS quota, most States have breached the 50-per-cent cap on reservations. Topping the list is Tamil Nadu (69 per cent), followed by Chhattisgarh (69 per cent), Maharashtra (62 per cent), Andhra Pradesh (60 per cent), Bihar (60 per cent), Delhi (60 per cent), Jharkhand (60 per cent), Karnataka (60 per cent), Kerala (60 per cent), Madhya Pradesh (60 per cent), Telangana (60 per cent) and Uttar Pradesh (60 per cent.)
Recently, the call for reconsidering the 50-per-cent cap has been growing since several States have been demanding a caste census to determine the actual population of SCs, STs, OBCs, and minorities.
However, the Centre has maintained that the caste census data of 2011 is unusable as it was “fraught with mistakes and inaccuracies”. It has also refused to conduct a nationwide caste census in 2022.