A solution in search of a problem: on 10% reservations -Sonalde Desai
Instead of addressing inequality, the 10% quota for economically weaker sections creates huge anxieties
If the number of demands for implementing reforms is any guide, India’s reservation system is clearly in disarray. However, it is unlikely that the recently passed Constitution (124th Amendment) Bill, 2019, creating a 10% quota for the economically weaker sections (EWS), will serve as anything more than a band-aid.
Given the deep inequalities prevalent in access to education and jobs based on caste and socio-economic status, affirmative action (or positive discrimination) makes a lot of sense. However, the system that was put in place during the early years of the Republic deserves serious re-evaluation in an era when technology has paved the way for deploying a better equipped arsenal. Here I present an evaluation of the potential implications of the EWS quota Bill, followed by some alternatives.
Excluding no one
The Bill promises 10% reservation to individuals classified as economically backward. However, while a number of criteria were discussed in the parliamentary debate, the Bill is quite silent on this. Assuming that among the criteria discussed in Parliament, those that are currently applied to the definition of the Other Backward Classes (OBC) creamy layer are the ones to be used, it is not clear how useful they would be. While the OBC creamy layer has been created to exclude people who are clearly well off, the EWS quota, in contrast, is expected to focus on the poor. One of the criteria — the income threshold of ?8 lakh per annum — has been mentioned. The National Sample Survey (NSS) of 2011-12 shows that the annual per capita expenditure for 99% of households falls under this threshold, even when we take inflation into account. Similarly, as per the India Human Development Survey (IHDS), the annual household incomes of 98% of households are less than ?8 lakh. Even if we apply all the other criteria for exclusion (e.g. amount of land owned and size of home), the Bill would still cover over 95% of the households. So, who are we excluding? Almost no one.
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