Does the 10 percent reservation for Economically Backward Sections (EWS) of society really benefit the poorest in India?
Legal scholar and former director of the National Law School of India Prof (Dr) G Mohan Gopal insisted that it was never meant to in the first place.
In an interview with South First‘s Vasu Gandikota and Anusha Ravi Sood, he said the EWS quota was a ploy to block increased representation of oppressed castes and religious minorities in the executive and the judiciary.
The Supreme Court on Monday, 7 November, upheld the validity of the 103rd amendment to the Constitution, which paved the way for the Narendra Modi government to carve out 10 percent reservation for dominant-caste persons — from families whose annual income is under ₹8 lakh — in Central educational institutions and jobs.
“The EWS quota, by reserving 10 percent for already over-represented oligarchs, is blocking the democratic transformation of India from an oligarchic state to a representative state,” the professor said.
Pitfalls of EWS quota
“The Union government said it was implementing the mandate in Article 46 of the Constitution. Article 46 is titled ‘Promotion of Educational and Economic Interests of SC/STs and Other Weaker Sections’, and is part of the Directive Principles of State Policy,” he noted.
“It says the state shall promote, with special care, the educational and economic interests of weaker sections of the people, in particular SC/STs, and shall protect them from social injustice and all forms of exploitation,” Gopal explained, adding that the EWS quota was riddled with duplicity and was misrepresented right from the beginning.
“Naturally, people thought SCs and STs were a part of economically weaker sections. They assumed this scheme would benefit SC, STs, and weaker sections. They understood from the political speech behind it that this provision of the 103rd amendment, Articles 15(6) and 16(6), would also benefit the poor amongst the upper castes,” he said.
“They assumed nobody is excluded from it. This is where the duplicity begins,” added Gopal, pointing to the convoluted language used in the amendment to exclude SCs, STs, and OBCs from the EWS category.
“Why did they simply not write straightforwardly that they were making reservations for the upper castes only? That was neither constitutionally nor politically feasible. It would not have been easy to pretend that this is some kind of a generic provision to benefit the poor. It was never intended to benefit the poor. Parliament decided to say this in the most obtuse manner in order to hide the truth,” he said, adding that the EWS quota was the first caste-based quota in the country.
“The EWS quota is the only caste-based quota in the country. All other reservations are not caste-based. The Supreme Court has said that a caste can be a class but only casteist people will see a class as a caste,” said Gopal.
“Any group that meets the 15 criteria set by the National Commission of Backward Classes — the essence of which is that men, women, and children of these groups engage in stigmatised manual labour for survival and have no representation (educational, economic, social, and political) — are entitled to be called backward classes. They are entitled to reservation. This includes groups from various castes, outcastes from the Varna system, and even transgenders and orphans. It is not caste-based,” he pointed out.
Calling on voters of India to take the electoral route in this regard, Gopal said a Parliament that would remove the 103rd amendment to the Constitution and throw out the EWS quota with a two-thirds majority should be elected to power in 2024.
“Why should 90 percent of this country be pushed around by oligarchs who want to stop India from being a representative state?” he asked.
“This fight is not about reservation but about representation. Only when all sections of the society are represented in the executive and the judiciary would democracy survive,” Gopal added.
Pointing to the stress laid on diversity and representation in the US Supreme Court, he said BR Ambedkar’s vision for India, too, was the representation of the vulnerable, oppressed classes in the state.
“The EWS quota is simply a ploy to keep the oligarchy going. EWS deals with groups of people who are socially and educationally forward classes. We view reservation as a restrictive tool only for the purpose of ensuring that the state is adequately representative of all classes,” he added.
Watch the full interview here: