From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : EWS Quota
Mains level : Issues with EWS quota
The Union Government has decided to revisit the criteria set out for eligibility for its 10% reservation under the economically weaker sections (EWS) category within a month.
- The decision came after the Supreme Court closely questioned it on how it arrived at the income figure.
- The Supreme Court is considering a case to the implementation of 27% reservation for the Other Backward Classes and 10% for the EWS under the all-India quota for medical admissions.
How was EWS reservation introduced?
- The 10% reservation was introduced through the 103rd Constitution Amendment and enforced in January 2019.
- It added Clause (6) to Article 15 to empower the Government to introduce special provisions for the EWS among citizens except those in the classes that already enjoy reservation.
- It allows reservation in educational institutions, both public and private, whether aided or unaided, excluding those run by minority institutions, up to a maximum of 10%.
- It also added Clause (6) to Article 16 to facilitate reservation in employment.
- The new clauses make it clear that the EWS reservation will be in addition to the existing reservation.
Significance of the quota
- The Constitution initially allowed special provisions only for the socially and educationally backward classes.
- The Government introduced the concept of EWS for a new class of affirmative action program for those not covered by or eligible for the community-based quotas.
What are the criteria to identify the section?
- The main criterion is that those above an annual income limit of ₹8 lakh are excluded.
- It accounts income from all sources such as salary, business, agriculture and profession for the financial year prior to the application of the family, applicants, their parents, siblings and minor children.
- Possession of any of these assets, too, can take a person outside the EWS pool:
- Five or more acres of agricultural land
- A residential flat of 1,000 sq.ft. and above
- A residential plot of 100 square yards and above in notified municipalities, and
- A residential plot of 200 square yards and above in other areas
What are the court’s questions about the criteria?
- Reduction within general category: The EWS quota remains a controversy as its critics say it reduces the size of the open category, besides breaching the 50% limit on the total reservation.
- Arbitrariness over income limit: The court has been intrigued by the income limit being fixed at ₹8 lakh per year. It is the same figure for excluding the ‘creamy layer’ from OBC reservation benefits.
- Socio-economic backwardness: A crucial difference is that those in the general category, to whom the EWS quota is applicable, do not suffer from social or educational backwardness, unlike those classified as the OBC.
- Metropolitan criteria: There are other questions as to whether any exercise was undertaken to derive the exceptions such as why the flat criterion does not differentiate between metropolitan and non-metropolitan areas.
- OBC like criteria: The question the court has raised is that when the OBC category is socially and educationally backward and, therefore, has additional impediments to overcome.
- Not based on relevant data: In line with the Supreme Court’s known position that any reservation or norms for exclusion should be based on relevant data.
What is the current status of the EWS quota?
- The reservation for the EWS is being implemented by the Union Government for the second year now.
- Recruitment test results show that the category has a lower cut-off mark than the OBC, a point that has upset the traditional beneficiaries of reservation based on caste.
- The explanation is that only a small number of people are currently applying under the EWS category — one has to get an income certificate from the revenue authorities — and therefore the cut-off is low.
- However, when the number picks up over time, the cut-off marks are expected to rise.
- The per capita income or GDP in all States, or the difference in purchasing power in the rural and urban areas, should be taken into account while a single income limit was formulated for the whole country.