Slicing the OBC quota pie: who gains and who loses

The Union Cabinet on Wednesday approved the setting up of a commission to examine the issue of sub-categorisation of Other Backward Classes (OBC). Here is a cheat sheet on the likely functions and responsibilities of the panel.

What will be the remit of the commission?

The Cabinet has approved the setting up of the commission to report on the extent of inequalities within castes listed as OBCs on the Central list and find out scientific ways of sub-categorising the most backward among them. This will pave the way for the provision of sub-quotas for the most backward castes within the OBCs. This means that the most backward OBC groups will compete among themselves for government jobs, educational seats, fellowships and so on rather than with the better-off OBC castes.

How are OBC reservations offered at present?

At present, there is a single Central OBC list, with entries from each State. People belonging to all these castes can seek reservation from within the single 27% OBC reservation pie for Central government jobs and Central educational institutions. Nine States, however, have already sub-categorised OBCs. These are Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Puducherry, Karnataka, Haryana, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Bihar, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu. OBC reservation became a reality after the implementation of the Mandal Commission report, which categorised many castes as constituting the backward classes and deserving of quotas. New castes have been added to the list over the years.

What are the political and social implications of the move?

Politically, this can be seen as an attempt by the government to reach out to the most backward castes among the OBCs. At present, many feel that the more advanced OBC castes corner the lion’s share of the benefits and have become influential. Not only will such a move offer more opportunities to the most backward castes among the OBCs but also give the government and the ruling party an opportunity to carve out a new political constituency. In Uttar Pradesh recently, the BJP had reached out to smaller and less significant OBC castes such as Maurya, Lodh and Rajbhar, in what was seen as a successful bid to break a possible Yadav-led OBC consolidation.

Can it affect any castes or groups adversely?

Yes, it may adversely affect the more advanced castes among the OBCs, such as the Yadavs. Since the Supreme Court had imposed a cap of 50% on reservation, OBC quotas at the Centre cannot exceed the present 27%. So, whatever will be carved out as a sub-category can come only from within this 27% quota pie, thus reducing the number of seats available for the better-off OBCs. The Scheduled Castes already have a 15% quota and the Scheduled Tribes 7.5%.

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