Supreme Court to hear pleas challenging EWS quota in July

Supreme Court of India. File photo

Supreme Court of India. File photo | Photo Credit: The Hindu

The Supreme Court on May 19 said it will begin hearing in July a series of petitions challenging the criteria fixed by the government to identify Economically Weaker Sections [EWS] of the society to grant 10% reservation in education and jobs.

A Bench led by Justice D. Y. Chandrachud has primarily raised the question on the government’s decision to fix ₹8 lakh as the annual income limit to identify the EWS category. The validity of the ₹8 lakh criterion had come into question while seeking EWS reservation in National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) admissions.

Senior advocate Arvind Datar, for the petitioners, submitted that the NEET-PG (post graduate) examination for the 2022-2023 batches was due soon.

“We will keep it as soon as the court reopens. We will give a date,” Justice Chandrachud said.

On January 17, 2019, the government had released an official memorandum [OM] informing that families earning a gross annual income below ₹8 lakh would be identified as EWS for benefit of reservation. The OM was issued just three days before the Constitution (One Hundred and Third) Amendment Act, which introduced the EWS quota, came into force on January 14, 2019.

The court had even wondered whether the ₹8 lakh threshold was “largely based” on the criterion to identify the creamy layer in the Other Backward Class [OBC] quota.

An expert committee headed by former Finance Secretary Ajay Bhushan Pandey, formed by the government to review the ₹8 lakh limit, had in its report maintained that the financial threshold was not a “mechanical adoption” of the OBC creamy layer cut-off.

“The review committee seems to be just trying to justify the ₹8 lakh limit post facto. They have done their best to justify the ₹8 lakh limit,” Justice Chandrachud had remarked.

The government had defended the annual income limit. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, for the government, had asked in court whether anybody with “common sense” would think ₹8 lakh was an “irrational” income limit for determining EWS. He had said that EWS had “stricter criterion” and it considered the gross annual income of the family and not just that of the individual seeking reservation benefits.

Mr. Mehta had referred to the Pandey Committee report, which said the ₹8 lakh criterion struck a “fine balance” between over-inclusion and inclusion errors.

Mr. Mehta had said the Constitutional term “economically weaker” did not mean those below the poverty line, but people in the low income groups, who may have small savings, but not enough to reap the benefits of a good higher education in the best universities, like others.

Mr. Mehta had also denied assertions that the ₹8 lakh criterion was a leaf out of the OBC creamy layer cut-off.

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Printable version | May 20, 2022 1:13:44 am |