[Burning Issue] Reservations for Economically Weaker Sections


  • The Indian Parliament passed the Constitution 124th (Amendment) Bill, 2019 that seeks to provide 10 per cent reservation in jobs and educational institutions to economically backward section in the general category.


124th Constitution Amendment Bill (2019)

  • Constitution 124th Amendment Bill, 2019 provides ten per cent reservation to the economically weaker sections (EWS) in the General category. The bill facilitates reservation for EWS in direct recruitments in jobs and admission in higher educational institutions.
  • The reservation of EWS of general category will be given without tampering the existing quotas for SC, ST and OBCs people.
  • The bill is expected to benefit a huge section of upper castes including Brahmins, Rajputs (Thakurs), Jats, Marathas, Bhumihars, and several trading castes including Kapus and Kammas.

What will the “Economically Weaker Sections Quota bill” amend in the Indian Constitution?

  • Amendment to Article 15 (Reservation in Educational Institutions)
  • In article 15 of the Constitution, after clause (5), the following clause shall be inserted, namely:—
    ‘Nothing in this article or sub-clause (g) of clause (1) of article 19 or clause (2) of article 29 shall prevent the State from making,— any special provision for the advancement of any economically weaker sections of citizens other than the classes mentioned in clauses (4) and (5) in so far as such special provisions relate to their admission to educational institutions including private educational institutions, whether aided or unaided by the State, other than the minority educational institutions referred to in clause (1) of article 30, which in the case of reservation would be in addition to the existing reservations and subject to a maximum of ten per cent of the total seats in each category.
  • Amendment to Article 16 (Reservation in Jobs)
  • In article 16 of the Constitution, after clause (5), the following clause shall be
    inserted, namely:— “(6) Nothing in this article shall prevent the State from making any provision for the reservation of appointments or posts in favour of any economically weaker sections of citizens other than the classes mentioned in clause (4), in addition to the existing reservation and subject to a maximum of ten per cent of the posts in each category.”.

Who comes under the “Economically Weaker Sections”?

The proposed amendment Bill will define the Economically Weaker Section (EWS) as one having:

  • Annual household income below Rs 8 lakh
  • Agriculture land below 5 acres
  • Residential house below 1000 sqft
  • Residential plot below 100 yards in notified municipality
  • Residential plot below 200 yards in non-notified municipality area

Reservation in India – The Present and the Future…

  • At present, reservations in India account for a total of 49.5%. If the 10% extra reservation for EWS is also taken into account, it would be 59.5%.
  • 7.5%, 15%, and 27% quotas are reserved for Scheduled Tribes, Scheduled Castes, and Other Backward Classes respectively.
  • If the EWS Quota Bill becomes an Act, only 40.5% of seats will be allocated in educational institutions/jobs based on the merit of candidates. As pointed by Supreme Court, increase in reservations can compromise the merit.

Is Present quota identical to one defining creamy layer among OBCs?

The proposed criteria for adjudging who is “economically weak” is identical to the one applied for defining “creamy layer” among the OBCs who are debarred from quota benefits.

The measure, which was criticised as “excessively liberal” when enforced for defining who constituted the “creamy layer” among the OBCs, will mean that almost the entire population, except the rich who number around just above a crore or so, cutting across communities, becomes eligible for quotas.

Does India need reservation?

  • It’s the duty of the government to provide equality of status and opportunity in India.
  • Reservation is one of the tools against social oppression and injustice against certain classes. Otherwise known as affirmative action, reservation helps in uplifting backward classes.
  • However, reservation is just one of the methods for social upliftment. There are many other methods like providing scholarships, funds, coachings, and other welfare schemes.
  • The way reservation is implemented and executed in India is largely governed by vote-bank politics.
  • Indian Consitution allowed reservation only for socially and educationally backward classes. However, in India, it became caste-based reservation instead of class-based reservation.
  • Initially, the reservation was intended only for SC/ST communities – that too for a period of 10 years (1951-1961). However, it got extended ever since. After the implementation of Mandal Commission report in 1990, the scope of the reservation was widened to include Other Backward Communities (OBCs).
  • The benefits of the reservation were successively enjoyed only by a few communities (or families), excluding the truly deserving ones. Even 70 years after independence, the demand for reservation has only increased.
  • Now, with the introduction of economic criteria for reservation, in addition to the caste-criteria which already existed, things have become more complicated.

Implications of Constitution 124th (Amendment) Bill, 2019

  • This will be the first time that poor non-OBC non-SC/ST individuals will get a chance. And given that Muslims are the poorest (economically weakest), they should obtain preference in the EWS 10 per cent quota.
  • general category jobs are open to everyone, including Scheduled Caste (SC), Scheduled Tribe (ST) and OBC individuals. Thus, by removing 10% jobs from the “open” category, it reduces the opportunities for currently reserved groups.
  • In era when skill demands are rapidly outpacing supply of candidates in specialised fields, the EWS quota increases the constraints.

Unequals should not be treated equally, but is reservation the only solution?

  • There is no doubt that unequals should not be treated equally. However, is the current system of unequal treatment perfect? Is it creating more injustice? Is it the only way out in a welfare-nation? It’s time to introspect.
  • Reservation based entirely on economic criteria is not an all-in-one solution, though family income can be one of the parameters. Also, its time to fix a time period for the reservation system – rather than extending it to eternity.
  • Denying India, the service of the meritorious candidates, who see them being overtaken by others with lesser academic performance or brilliance, is also a crime and injustice.
  • Aren’t there any alternative mechanisms to uplift the marginalised so that everyone gets equal opportunities? How is affirmative action done in other countries?
  • Reforms in the reservation system of India is the need of the hour. However, as the subject of reservation revolves around a lot of votes, parties are reluctant to disrupt the existing system.

Government’s view

  • Reacting to the passage of the bill in Lok Sabha, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, it is a landmark moment in the nation’s history and an effective measure that ensures justice for all sections of society.
  • Finance minister Arun Jaitley, building the case for the 10 per cent quota, said, “If two individuals are not equal due to birth or for economic reasons, then they cannot be treated equally. Unequals cannot be treated equally,” he said.
  • He further contended that the 50% cap on reservations imposed by the Supreme Court was only for caste-based reservations, and the Economically Weaker Section (EWS) reservation won’t be impacted by it.
  • Union Social Justice and Empowerment Minister Thaawarchand Gehlot said the similar state laws for EWS quota were quashed by Courts because there was no provision for economic reservation in the Constitution before.  Now, the Law will not be struck down by the Supreme Court if challenged as it has been brought by making required provisions in the Constitution.

Will Supreme Court consider the 124th Constitutional Amendment Bill as valid?

  • Except in a few states like Tamil Nadu, the cap of reservation is 50%. This limit is set by the Supreme Court to avoid the vote-bank politics of providing quotas thus compromising the merit. Tamil Nadu has a law which provides for 69% reservations, which has been inserted into the ninth schedule of Constitution to immunize it from judicial review.
  • A nine-judge bench decision of the SC in the Indira Sawhney case(1992) had capped the upper limit of reservation at 50%. The Indira Sawhney case had further held that social backwardness cannot be determined only with reference to an economic criterion.
  • So the limits imposed by the nine-judge bench in 1992 would be the major litmus test for this bill. If the same standards are upheld by the Supreme Court, the 124th Constitutional Amendment Bill will be declared null and void.
  • The Gujarat Government had already brought an ordinance to provide 10% quota for EWS in the forward castes. However, in August 2016, the Gujarat High Court had quashed this ordinance. The High Court, however, observed that the “unreserved category itself is a class” and economic criteria was too fluctuating a basis for providing quota.

Future Implications:

  • If the Supreme Court agrees to lift the 50% cap, all States of India can extend the quantum of reservation and “upper castes” will stand to lose in State services.
  • If the Supreme Court rejects the idea of breaching the 50% cap, Economically Weaker Section (EWS) quotas can be provided only by eating into the SC, ST and OBC quota pie, which will have social and political implications.
  • The move may have some appeal to upper castes in States.

Redesigning Reservation System

  • One strategy may be to try and spread the benefits of reservations as widely as possible within the existing framework and ensure that individuals use their reserved category status only once in their lifetime.
  • we need to focus on reducing inequalities where they first emerge, within primary schools.
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Dilip Joshi
4 years ago

The Author states that the Constitution provides for reservation of socially and educationally backward only that also for 10 years. That is not true. Original Constitution has provision to permit State to reserve seats for backward classes in govt service. However it was enabling clause and not compulsion. The 10year rule was only for political election reservation. The Article 335 provided instructions to take care of claims of SC/ST in govt service without affecting efficiency . The concept of educationally and socially backward class was introduced by the 1 st Amendment in 1951inserting a subclause (4) in Article 15 and subclause (2) in Article 29 enabling the State to make any provision for advancement of SC/ST/and socially and educationally backward classes. Hence original Constitution does not have this provision.


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