Union minister for social justice and empowerment Thawar Chand Gehlot says the decision to carve out a 10% quota in government jobs and university seats for economically weaker sections, including the upper castes, hadn’t been precipitated by electoral compulsions or political expediency. The Constitution (124th Amendment) Bill, 2019, which was piloted by his ministry and passed in both houses of Parliament this week, is aimed at ensuring the educational and economic empowerment of the poor in the general category, Gehlot said in an interview. Edited excerpts:
The Opposition says this bill was brought only with an eye on elections.
We undertook the work of passing this bill with achi neeyat and acha irada (good intent and good purpose) and we have for long been committed towards this. Even the Mandal commission had recommended that there should be reservation for the economically backward from the general category; then ,when PV Narasimha Rao was the Prime Minister, he issued orders for the implementation of this order; but it could not be implemented because the Supreme Court struck it down on the grounds that there was no provision for this reservation in the Constitution.
Since our intention was based on the premise to give reservation to the EBCs (economically backward classes) in general categories, we went ahead with the bill.
Political opponents as well as analysts say the decision comes in the wake of Bharatiya Janata Party’s defeat in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, where upper caste anger was palpable after the provisions of the Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, were restored.
Everyone has their own viewpoint, everyone is free to think and say what they feel. But we say this decision is not based on such reasons. We have [state] elections all through five-years [term of the Lok Sabha] and the model code of conduct is implemented in one place or the other; in such a scenario, whenever the time is right, we take decisions. We were in favour of this reservation and discussions were on for a long time; what has been done now is only for the benefit of general category EBCs. This has been done with achi, neeyat, neeti and irada.
There is a view that instead of reservation, the government should have taken steps for affirmative action, offered more scholarships or increased the aid that is given. Also, there are fewer government jobs now.
People are saying things based on what they feel or understand. Had we limited the help to just more scholarships and freeships, people would have questioned why we don’t introduce reservation.
There is no bar on people from conjecturing.
But I want to clarify that both the Mandal commission and the Sinho commission [the Commission for Economically Backward Classes headed by Maj Gen SR Sinho] that was set up later, recommended that EBCs from general categories should be given some assistance.
Our government, after Prime Minister Narendra Modi assumed office in 2014, started the process of giving scholarships to EBCs from general categories as well. All these things have been happening since 2014-15. So what people are now suggesting is already being done by us.
This reservation will offer general category EBCs the kind of assistance that people from the scheduled castes and tribes get and it will help in their educational and economic empowerment.
There is a demand now for the government to revisit the OBC (other backward class) reservation and increase it from 27% in proportion to their population.
The Supreme Court has put a ceiling, it says reservation for those who are socially and educationally backward, which means OBCs and the SCs/STs, should not cross 50%. There were concerns that if their reservation is increased what will happen to the rest; so we have given 10% reservation for the rest [the general category]; and to ensure this does not meet any difficulties we decided to insert clause(6) in Articles 15 and 16 of the Constitution. [The proposed Article 15(6) enables State to make special provisions for advancement of any economically weaker section of citizens, including reservations in educational institutions and the proposed Article 16(6) enables State to make provision for reservation in appointments, in addition to the existing reservations, subject to a maximum of 10%.]
The National Commission for Denotified, Nomadic and Semi-Nomadic Tribes has suggested carving out sub-quotas within the existing reservation policy for including these communities in the ambit of caste-based quotas. Will these suggestions be accepted?
Those recommendations are under process. We need the consent of state governments for implementing those recommendations and have sought their views.
The Centre has not made public the findings of a caste census conducted in 2011. Many parties want a fresh survey so that there is more clarity on the caste composition. Will the government consider these demands?
These issues are under the purview of the home ministry. Time-to-time when there is a need to discuss or relook at issues related to law or policy, the home ministry refers to these statistics.As far as making the data public is concerned, that decision also rests with the home ministry.
First Published: Jan 11, 2019 10:44 IST