[Editorial] On EWS Quota Income Limit

How does the EWS Quota work?

  • The 103rd Constitutional Amendment Act of 2019 introduced the 10% Economically Weaker Section or EWS quota into the Indian reservation system.
  • The government had set ₹8 lakh as the annual income criterion for identifying EWS beneficiaries among the forward classes for the 10% reservation under all India quota (AIQ) for medical admissions.
  • All India quota is formed from 15% of UG seats and 50% of PG seats surrendered by the states.
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What are the recent developments?

  • The Supreme Court recently questioned the basis for the ₹8 lakh limit set by the government for identifying the EWS beneficiaries. The 3 judge bench asked the government to file an affidavit explaining the basis for arriving at this cut-off.
  • The court questioned whether the government had simply extended the ‘creamy layer’ cap for Other Backward Classes to EWS quota. It should be noted that the creamy layer concept was devised to exclude the affluent from availing quota benefits. This can’t be used for identifying EWS beneficiaries.
  • The centre has asked for time to reconsider the income criteria.

What are the challenges?

  • The 103rd Amendment Act itself is under challenge before a Supreme Court bench. The amendment is being challenged for making economic criterion as the sole ground for reservation.
  • The income criterion is an anomalous aspect of the EWS quota. The question remains- whether those facing impediments related to social and educational backwardness can be equated with those who don’t.
  • The current court proceedings will only decide the validity of reservation (OBC and EWS) in admissions under all India quota.

What is the way ahead?

  • OBC reservation is applicable to admissions in medical institutions by union government and state governments separately. However, it wasn’t implemented for AIQ seats till now. The implementation of OBC quota in AIQ brings admissions norms in line with existing policy.
  • The requirement of quantifiable data or detailed study (along with proof) for justifying reservation in any category is now an established principle. This is also applicable to determining which sections get reservation benefits and which don’t.
  • In this backdrop, the court questioning the centre regarding the existence of any study to form the basis for the income criterion in EWS reservation is logical.
  • However, the larger issue is whether reservation is to be treated as a means of poverty alleviation and whether those belonging to socially advanced communities but aren’t economically well off need a share of the reservation pie.
  • These questions require early resolution from the Constitution Bench.

Conclusion:

The Supreme Court is justified in asking the centre for the basis of the income criterion in deciding the EWS quota beneficiaries. While the entire question of providing reservation benefits based only on economic backwardness is under challenge in court, the ₹8 lakh cut-off needs to be reviewed for its validity.

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