The 124th Constitution Amendment Bill is a classic case of a right law being brought in a wrong a way. It is meant to provide 10 per cent reservation in Central government jobs and educational institutions, including private ones, to the economically weaker sections in the general category. This means that those left out of the quota pie -- the upper caste Hindus, Muslims, Christians, etc. -- will now get a chance to try their luck in 10 per cent of the jobs and seats on offer.
The decision looks more like an election-time ‘surgical strike’ than a genuine attempt to bring in social justice to the poor among the hitherto unreserved category. Look at the hurry with which the Bill was introduced in Parliament. In 72 hours, it got the Cabinet nod, and was passed in both Houses of Parliament. That too on the last day of both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha. If reports are to be believed, even the Cabinet Ministers were in the dark on the introduction of the Bill. The reason for this tearing hurry is apparently the most worrisome message the BJP got from the five states which went to the polls recently. It lost all the three states wherein it was in power.
Now who are the beneficiaries of the new quota? The eligibility criteria enumerated in the Bill makes a mockery of the offer. All those with a family income of less than Rs. 8 lakh a year or anyone who does not have an agricultural land measuring 5 acres or a flat with 1000 sq. ft area in an urban area or 200 sq. mt in a village, would benefit. This means 95 per cent of those who do not fall in the existing 49.5 per cent reservation for SCs, STs and OBCs are eligible for this quota. In other words, 95 per cent of over half the population of the country would vie for 10 per cent of the jobs on offer.
Making matters worse, jobs in public sector are on the decline. The demonetization and the unplanned implementation of the GST had rung the death knell of lakhs of jobs. Hence, getting a job under the new quota will be like searching for a non-existing black cat in a dark room. If the government was serious about helping the poor among the unreserved category, it should have kept the eligibility criteria several notches down.
Coming to the legal and constitutional hurdles staring at the new law, less said the better. The Supreme Court has consistently taken the view that any quota above 50 per cent is null and void. The present law might fail to pass the muster in this regard. The Constitution does not provide for reservation on the basis of economic backwardness. The statute makes it clear that reservation is meant to help the advancement of educationally and socially backward classes. Hence the new law meant to help the economically weaker sections may not stand judicial scrutiny.
The Modi government’s decision is nothing but an election ‘jumla’. It seems to be an afterthought brought in hastily on election eve which will be impossible to implement for lack of time and jobs. The move has more to do with politics than social justice.(Published on 14th January 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 03)