August 10, 2020
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The Fat-Free Diet

Twenty seven per cent it is, now will the creamy layer get a taste?

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The Fat-Free Diet
The Fat-Free Diet

Other Backward Communities in a Nutshell

Population: The Mandal commission put it at 52 per cent of the population. The NSS Survey 2000 pegged it at 36 per cent. A more realistic estimate would be between 40-44 per cent.

  • Communities in the backward list: 4,820
  • NSS has put the percentage of backward Muslims at 4 per cent of the population. There is also a small percentage of backward Christians.
Creamy Layer Defined

The government will broadly go by the following parameters to identify "socially advanced persons/sections" of OBCs. Their children will not be eligible for 27 per cent reservation to centrally aided educational institutions:
  • Persons whose annual income is Rs 2.5 lakh per annum and above. (There is speculation that this is likely to be upped to Rs 4 lakh).
  • Those who hold constitutional posts
  • Group A (Class I officers) and Group B (Class II services) including employees holding equivalent posts in PSUs, banks, insurance companies and universities
  • Officers of the armed forces of the rank of colonel or an equivalent post and above
  • Professionals and those who engage in trade, business and industry
  • Those who hold irrigated agricultural land equal to or more than 85 per cent of the statutory ceiling area for a particular state. For example, if the cap is 10 acres then those who own 8.5 acres of irrigated land fall into the creamy layer.
What The critics Fear
  • In the absence of properly maintained land records, holdings can be fudged
  • The income limit is likely to be revised to include more OBCs in the reserved category
  • The government may move amendments to bring the creamy layer within the ambit of quota
Dominant Backward Castes

Thanks to political clout and wealth, a section of these OBCs are no longer backward:
  • Bihar: Yadavs, Kurmis, Telis, Koeris and Malis
  • Rajasthan: Jats, Yadavs, Telis, Gujjars, Malis
  • Maharashtra: Kurmis, Yadavs, Telis and Malis
  • Uttar Pradesh: Jats, Yadavs, Gujjars, Patels/Kurmis and Lodhs
  • Karnataka: Vokkaligas, Banagias, Badigas, Banasaras and Shettys
  • Tamil Nadu: Chettiars, Gounders, Thevars and Vanniyars
  • Kerala: Ezhavas, Nadars


The Supreme Court's April 10 judgement upholding 27 per cent OBC reservation in government-aided institutions has in one sense put an end to the 'to quota or not to quota' debate. But the five-judge bench's ruling that the creamy layer be kept out of the reservation ambit has given a new twist to the entire issue. The focus now is on how to identify the privileged among the backward class, draw up parameters which are relevant in the presentday context. Of course, the sceptics are apprehensive, fearing the government may introduce a structure which accommodates much of the creamy layer. But even they admit the judgement is, in principle, acceptable.

Sociologist Dipankar Gupta of Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University feels "the government is more likely to make the creamy layer so generous that very few people will be left out of the exercise." However, he does acknowledge the significance of the apex court's ruling. As he puts it, "It is for the first time that the court's verdict has taken the debate of reservation to its roots by emphasising on OBC classes and not castes as an indicator of backwardness. Also, the government now has to define the creamy layer—which is open to judicial review."

Which is also why Union human resources development minister Arjun Singh has tempered his response to the court verdict. The SC making well-off OBCs ineligible is definitely a setback for the minister. While moving the Central Educational Institutions (Reservation in Admission) Act, '06, in Parliament, he had made no mention of the creamy layer. Still, he hides his disappointment well. "We were ready to start the identification process last year but were stalled by the Supreme Court stay. Now we can begin again," he says.

A sizable section of the student population, not to mention parents, academics and sociologists, who had taken to the streets in 2006 protesting the decision to implement quotas have fallen quiet. They seem to have accepted the verdict. This follows from two of their main concerns being addressed by the court:
  • No quota for the rich among the backward communities
  • A graduate degree is a sign of upward mobility and hence no reservation for post-graduate degrees
  • The total number of general category seats to be increased by 54 per cent.
It is also with a sense of relief that the National Backward Classes Commission, the statutory body set up to identify socially and economically backward communities, greeted the court verdict. It no longer has to draw up a fresh list of OBC communities—a demand pressed for in the courts by the anti-reservation lobby. For now, the 4,820 communities identified as 'backward class' by the Commission will be the standard followed. Individuals from these communities who fall into the creamy layer will not qualify for the quota.

Another court directive—to ensure least gap in the cutoff marks (minimum marks required to qualify for admission) for OBC candidates and general category students—has laid some exaggerated fears about merit being sacrificed to rest. Also, the observation of one judge that this gap should be no more than 10 marks has gone down well with students who once opposed reservation.

But how will the government identify the creamy layer? Arjun Singh has clarified that the criteria will be discussed by the cabinet committee on political affairs. He also acknowledged that the verdict's emphasis on the creamy layer factor has disappointed UPA allies. Says constitutional expert Rajeev Dhawan: "To remove the creamy layer is to behead the OBC movement and the government will be quite conscious of the impact such a verdict is likely to have." While Dhawan says the government will move a constitutional amendment, for the moment that looks unlikely. It is not too keen to precipitate a clash between the legislature and the judiciary. Sources say the ministry of social justice and empowerment will determine the parameters of determining the creamy layer.

Ever since the SC first ruled that the creamy layer be kept out of quotas (in 1993), there has been much debate on the issue. Even today there is a section who feel the more influential and rich among the backward classes corner all the benefits of reservation. The present judgement, they feel, has done well to introduce the creamy layer caveat.

But not everyone has a cynical view. IIT Madras director M.S. Ananth says he will be able to implement the first phase of 9 per cent increase in student intake this year. But he adds there will be tremendous strain on infrastructure with the additional enrolment of a 100 students. In all, 5,000 students make it to the seven IITs in the country. This intake will increase by another 1,000 this year. With Rs 15 lakh per student set aside for creating infrastructure, the IITs will be seeking more funds from the government. Ananth says he is not worried about issues like decline in quality as quality is never the first casualty as is made out to be.

It's the same with IIM Calcutta. Director Shekhar Chaudhury told Outlook: "We started preparations for implementing the OBC reservation policy last year itself and are in the process of creating the infrastructure. We will be ready to increase our intake by 6 per cent of the present sanctioned class size of 300 this year. We expect to have the additional classrooms and hostel rooms for taking in an additional 90 students during 2009-10 and thereafter an additional 54 students in 2010-2012." The government hopes to implement quota in 64 central institutions over a three-year period. IITs and IIMs put together got Rs 1,400 crore last year to implement the 27 per cent reservation. There is also a plan to allocate a further Rs 1,771 crore over the next three years.

But implementing reservation in larger institutions and universities will be an uphill task. According to Deepak Paintal, vice-chancellor of Delhi University, he has to make room for 1,80,000 students this year as compared to the normal intake of 1,20,000. "It will strain resources and calls for large- scale improvement in infrastructure," says Paintal. Quite clearly, the government has to make more budgetary allowances than the additional Rs 100 crore that was made available to the university this year.

Social commentator Kancha Iliah says it would be in the fitness of things to hand over at least Rs 1,400 crore to the backward classes and start right from scratch—the primary schools. "Let there be English medium schools right from kindergarten and above in the remotest of villages. Put this mechanism in place for 25 years. Allow a generation of students to pass out and then phase out reservation."

That seems unlikely for the moment. Most of the universities are preparing for a phase-wise rollout of quota. Some like Delhi University have to overcome infrastructure problems and teaching staff shortage to implement the government's agenda. The IITs have indicated that they are ready for quotas. So are medical colleges funded by the government. As far as the IIMs are concerned, the government says it cannot pull back as they do not fall in the list of institutes exempted from implementing reservation by the HRD ministry.

Quite clearly, quota is all set to roll out this academic year. Once the first few batches graduate, it will become clear if the reservation policy has been fruitful. The HRD ministry, in any case, is confident it will bring about social justice in the country.

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