The idea of social justice has acquired a renewed focus in the State with government measures such as the administration of the social justice pledge and the formation of a panel to monitor the implementation of the concept.
Over 50 years ago, the first Backward Classes Commission (1969-70), headed by former civil servant A.N. Sattanathan, viewed it in its own way while addressing the issue of, what came to be called later, the creamy layer. In Volume I of its report, the panel said: “If this upper crust in each caste is not removed from competing with the less privileged, the object of social justice, especially distributive justice, will not be achieved.”
Pointing out that “an upper strata” of educated and comparatively well-off members was to be found “in every caste, in smaller or larger number,” the Sattanathan Commission wanted the government to do “serious thinking” about allowing castes with a “substantial upper strata who cannot complain of economic, social or environmental handicaps” to get protection further. “Social justice will be abused and rendered really ineffective if State policy is not reviewed from time to time,” the Commission observed, coming up with two parameters — annual income and size of landholding — to determine the “advanced section in each Backward Caste”.
In May 1971, the then Chief Minister, M. Karunanidhi, announced the quantum of reservation for Backward Classes (BC) from 25% to 31%, two less than what was recommended by the panel, and for Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST), from 16% to 18%. It was left to his successor, M.G. Ramachandran, to deal with the notion of “removing the upper crust,” by getting an order issued in July 1979, fixing the ceiling of annual income at ₹9,000 for becoming eligible to enjoy the fruits of reservation. After the AIADMK faced a drubbing in the 1980 Lok Sabha poll, he not only withdrew the order but also enhanced the quantum for BCs to 50%. His government had formed another BC Commission, with J.A. Ambasankar, also a former IAS officer, as the chairperson.
The Ambasankar Commission (1982-85), which hit the headlines for its suggestions to restrict the quantum to 32% for BCs and deleting 24 communities, emphasised the need for “compartmental reservation”. It pointed out that a review of admissions to professional courses and recruitment to government services had revealed that a large number of castes/classes — more than 125 — had failed to get any representation for three consecutive years (1980-83), which was the study period of the panel.
Nearly 30 years later, the State Backward Classes Commission, headed by M.S. Janarthanam, former judge of the Madras High Court, went into the aspect of the creamy layer in reservation.
In its report of July 2011, the panel felt that “the stage for the application of the creamy layer” in providing reservation to BCs, Most Backward Classes and Denotified Communities had “not been reached” in the State. The concept, if adopted, would lead to “meritorious Backward Class candidates, who could have had the opportunity of getting selected,” losing their chance. Eventually, the BCs would not be able to avail themselves “in full measure” of the benefits of reservation, the Commission stated, justifying the government’s policy of not excluding the creamy layer.
In the recently concluded Assembly session, the State government said it was “always opposed” to the exclusion of creamy layer by the Centre in quota for OBCs.