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

Reservation within Constitutional bounds


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Articles 15 and 16;

Mains level: Reservation and Sub-categorization;

Why in the news?

There’s a big argument between political parties about reservation. The BJP said some exaggerated things about the Congress wanting a caste census, suggesting it’s connected to religion.

Current debates on Reservation and Sub-categorization:

  • Constitutional Provisions: The Constituent Assembly opposed reservation solely based on religion, and the Constitution guarantees prohibition of discrimination based on religion under Articles 15 and 16.
  • History of Sub-categorization in Karnataka: In Karnataka, all Muslim communities are included within the OBC quota, forming the basis for the BJP’s current campaign.
    • Sub-categorization for Muslims within the OBC quota has existed in Karnataka since 1995.
    • The H. D. Deve Gowda-led government introduced it but was later removed by the Basavaraj Bommai-led government. However, the status quo continues after court observation.
  • Reservation for Muslim and Christian Communities: Socially and educationally backward Muslim and Christian communities are provided reservations under the OBC/MBC category in various states, including Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Andhra Pradesh.
  • Constitutional Language and SC/ST Communities: The Constitution specifies that for SCs, the person should profess Hinduism, Sikhism, or Buddhism, but no such requirement exists for STs.
  • Congress Manifesto Promise: The Congress has promised in its manifesto to work towards removing the 50% cap placed on reservations, suggesting a potential shift in reservation policy if they come into power.

Affirmative action as per Constitution:

  • Constitutional Provisions: Articles 15 and 16 of the Constitution ensure equality to all citizens in actions by the state, including admissions to educational institutions and public employment.
    • They also enable the state to make special provisions for advancing socially and educationally backward classes, including OBC, SC, and ST.
  • Classification of Backward Classes: OBC is a collective term for socially and educationally backward castes, with some states also classifying certain castes as Most Backward Classes (MBC). Reservation percentages vary from state to state.
  • Indra Sawhney Case (1992): Supreme Court upheld 27% reservation for OBC. Caste is considered a determinant of class in the Indian context, and backwardness cannot be determined solely on economic criteria.
    • A cap of 50% was fixed for reservations unless there were exceptional circumstances.
  • Total reservation stood at 49.5% for OBC (27%), SC (15%), and ST (7.5%)—creamy layer exclusion from OBC reservation, with an income limit currently at ₹8 lakhs per annum.
    • Exclusion of children of certain government officials from the reservation.
  • Janhit Abhiyan Case (2022): The court upheld the constitutional validity of the reservation for Economically Weaker Sections (EWS). Economic criteria could be a reservation basis, according to the court’s majority opinion.

Affirmative Actions Globally:

  • In the U.S., there is ‘affirmative action’ that consists of government-approved and voluntary private programs granting special consideration to racial minorities like African Americans and Latin Americans.
    • In Fair Admissions vs Harvard case (2023), the U.S. Supreme Court, however, ruled that race-based affirmative action programs in college admissions violate the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.
  • In the U.K., the law enables voluntary ‘positive action’ which allows employers to combat the under-representation of disadvantaged groups.
  • France does not have any affirmative action based on race or ethnicity. It provides educational measures designed to increase opportunities for low-income students.

Way Forward: 

  • Need for Sub-categorization: The Rohini Commission was set up to provide recommendations on sub-categorization among OBC castes, as a significant portion of reserved jobs and seats have been garnered by a small percentage of OBC castes/sub-castes. Similar issues of concentration of benefits persist in the SC and ST categories.
  • Inclusion of Dalit Christians and Muslims: Dalit Christians and Muslims also suffer from discrimination and lack of opportunities. There is a need to extend reservation benefits to these communities and address their marginalization.

Mains PYQ:

Q Whether National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC) can enforce the implementation of constitutional reservation for the Scheduled Castes in the religious minority institutions? Examine.(UPSC IAS/2018)

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