103rd CAA grants reservation in govt jobs and educational institutions
The 103rd Constitutional Amendment, which grants the "economically weaker sections of the society" 10% reservation in government jobs and educational institutions but excludes the "poorest of the poor" among Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, and Other Backward Classes from its scope, was upheld on Monday by a 3:2 majority of the Supreme Court's Constitution Bench. The three judges that were found in favor of the quota were Justices Dinesh Maheshwari, Bela M Trivedi, and JB Pardiwala of the five-judge panel that made the ruling. They argued that the reserve clause for EWS did not violate the Constitution's core tenets. However, Justice S. Ravindra Bhat disagreed and declared the EWS quota amendment invalid. UU Lalit, CJI, agreed with him. The majority of political parties, including the Congress and the BJP, which heads the government coalition at the center, hailed the decision.
The 103rd Amendment, which was approved by the Parliament in 2019, included provisions to Articles 15 and 16 that permitted the government to create quotas for economically underprivileged groups of the population who did not take advantage of existing reservation tiers. A number of legal and constitutional inquiries were sent to the Constitution bench.
(1) Whether the 103rd Constitutional Amendment, by allowing the State to create special provisions, including reservations based on economic reasons, violates the Constitution's fundamental principles? Interestingly, all of the judges sitting on the bench have unanimously agreed that there is no constitutional prohibition against the reservation of seats based on economic criteria. This idea might have a bigger effect on how the reservation strategy will develop in the future.
(2) Whether the 103rd Constitutional Amendment, which allows the State to enact unique rules for admittance to private institutions without government funding, violates the Constitution's fundamental principles. It is the only instance in which Justices UU Lalit and S Ravindra Bhat have dissented from the majority judgement and suggested that the Amendment be declared "discriminatory." According to the majority opinion, it is acceptable to exclude the "disadvantaged" groups who benefit from reservations under other Articles 15 and 16 clauses.
(3) Whether the 103rd Constitutional Amendment, by eliminating SEBCs, OBCs, SCs, and STs from the ambit of EWS reservation, violates the Constitution's fundamental principles. The bench has also proposed significant changes to the reservation system in response to the controversy surrounding opposition to the Amendment brought on by claims of "discrimination" by SC/ST/OBC organisations.
(4) Whether the 50% cap mentioned in past Supreme Court rulings can be regarded as a part of the Constitution's fundamental principles. If so, can it be stated that the 103rd Constitutional Amendment violates the Constitution's fundamental principles? All judges have agreed unanimously that the 50% quota restriction imposed by the Indira Sawhney ruling is not an absolute number.
Beyond the Mandal argument, which favoured caste reservation, the Modi government's determination to implement the EWS quota and the SC's endorsement of it moved the needle. Expectedly, parties that identify with social justice movements, like the DMK and Dalit organisations, have expressed concern that the introduction of a 10% EWS quota may limit the opportunities available to Dalits and OBCs, implying that the move is politically risky and may cause caste-based polarisation. The government needs to address the issues raised in the dissenting opinion as well as the anxieties of Dalits and other economically and socially disadvantaged groups.
The main category of discrimination is still based on caste, although other standards of deprivation could include gender, economic status, geography, and so on. Expanding the economic pie remains the primary objective, despite the inclusion of poverty as a factor in discrimination and the proposal of restitution being a positive step. Three decades after Mandal, that will require significant social, economic, and political lifting and may redefine affirmative action politics to be far more inclusive. Surprisingly, despite questioning the merits of maintaining the reserve programme, the majority of judges have upheld the expansion of reservations to a new category. If this is the start of the demise of affirmative action, only time will tell.