Minority Issues – SC, ST, Dalits, OBC, Reservations, etc.

[op-ed snap] One more quota


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothig Much

Mains level : Implications of community based reservations


  • Ever since the Supreme Court gave its ruling in the Indra Sawhney case, the complications surrounding the issue of OBC reservations have defied solutions.
  • As I have argued, identifying backwardness, periodic scrutiny of claims to being backward and ensuring fair treatment of those included in the list of backward communities, constituted three challenges emanating from the Mandal discourse .
  • Subsequently, this list of key issues became more complicated by claims from many regionally important peasant communities that they are backward, resulting in crossing the 50 per cent threshold.

Impact of latest Ruling

  • The latest ruling of the Bombay High Court is bound to lead to a new route for states to accommodate demands of various communities.
  • The Court has approved the report of the M G Gaikwad Commission which undertook studies to examine the status of Marathas and made recommendations about the quantum of reservation.

1.No access to report

  • The first question regarding such a policy instrument is this: Can such a far-reaching policy be undertaken without the public having access to the findings of the Commission and without the courts having the benefit of public discussions?
  • Can secrecy and urgency be the basis for policies?
  • For instance, the projected calculations of the population of backward communities, as is quoted in the HC ruling, appear to be tricky, if not altogether problematic.
  • Secondly, the argument of exceptionality is brought into sharp focus by this ruling.
  • It is not clear what constitutes an exceptional situation justifying reservation exceeding 50 per cent.
  • This is likely to open a Pandora’s Box in that all similar claims by other communities (Gujjars of Rajasthan, Dhangars of Maharashtra and so on) could be accepted as being exceptional.

3. Separate Quota

  • Three, the issue of the Maratha quota has brought forward an even more serious issue that the Court has not addressed.
  • Suppose a community is found to be backward and it is not included in the present list of OBCs, what is the justification for creating a separate quota for it?
  • However, such a strategy effectively means that one community is assured of a guaranteed quota while all others have to compete within the quota.
  • For the 19 per cent reservation for OBCs in the state, all the OBC communities need to compete whereas for the 12 or 13 per cent under the HC ruling, only the Marathas get to compete.

Community-specific quota.

  • Reservation, so far, has generally been for a class of citizens belonging to various castes or communities.
  • Even the SC and ST quotas are for a group of communities.
  • By upholding the “Maratha quota”, the Gaikwad Commission, state of Maharashtra and the High Court seem to be creating precedence for a community-specific quota.
  • Such a caste- or community-specific quota has a different logic and trajectory from that of a grouping of communities into classes of citizens deserving affirmative action.

4. Logic of backwardness

  • Fourth, in the present case, the logic of backwardness on grounds of traditional status appears to be overwhelmed by the logic of backwardness on grounds of contemporary economy.
  • Communities that are mainly rural and numerous are bound to have internal stratification, regional variation and skewed access to resources.


  • Evidently, all these are results of contemporary policies and failures of successive state governments to address the wellbeing of a large section of society.
  •  This tendency of transposing contemporary routes of distress and discrimination onto history tends to undermine the logic behind the social justice policy as understood so far.
  • Precisely this same logic of contemporary distress is being used for the reservation for economically weaker sections.
  • In this sense, we are rapidly moving away from the constitutional logic behind enabling clauses such as Articles 15 and 16.
  • Instead, reservation is seen as the solution to hide distortions of contemporary economic development.


But beyond political compulsions, and beyond legality or constitutionality, this issue poses a larger challenge. That challenge is not merely about semantics, about the meanings of “exceptional” or “adequate representation”. It is to realise that such easy routes endanger societal balance (among groups identified as backward) even as they give a false sense that the issue is amicably resolved.

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