Is the Government preparing to introduce the Constitution amendment Bill to facilitate 10% reservation in jobs and education to the economically weaker among the upper castes in the Rajya Sabha? The speculation received a fillip when the revised list of business on Lok Sabha’s website failed to list the Bill even as the sittings of the Rajya Sabha has been extended by a day.
Meanwhile, the cabinet decision barely 100 days before the general election triggered a mixed reaction with BJP supporters hailing the ‘masterstroke’ while others saw it as a knee-jerk panic reaction to woo upper caste voters.
With doubts being expressed on the constitutional validity of the Bill, with the Supreme Court having laid down the law that reservation cannot exceed the existing 50% level, West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee wondered aloud, “ My question is,in the name of elections can a govt cheat people or ditch unemployed youth?They've to clarify whether it will be implemented or not and if it is constitutionally&legally valid or not”.
The Government is, however, arguing that the 50% ceiling is on reservation on the basis of caste and will not affect reservation on economic criteria.
At a book launch on Monday evening, Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad was quoted as saying by news agencies that “the judiciary has never questioned the "power of Parliament" to come up with "reservation for a special objective upon proper reasonable ground".
At the same event, Nationalist Congress Party MP Praful Patel expressed suspicion over the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)'s hurry in approving the quota proposal in the last three months of its term."We are discussing something important without applying our minds to it," Patel said.He added that parliamentarians will have very less time to read it and debate in the House."Would we be able to discuss it objectively, constructively?"
Government sources maintained that people would be classified as economically weak if his/her annual income is less than Rs 8 lakh; he/she own agricultural land of less than five hectares; he/she has a house smaller than 1,000 square feet, he/she owns residential plots below 109 yards in notified municipalities or below 209 yards in non-municipality areas.
The reaction of veteran BJP leader and former Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha was, however, frosty. “Those who consider reservation for upper castes an election masterstroke by Modi pl remember that both Karpoori Thakur and VP Singh lost their election after a much bigger reservation move. Last moment gimmicks don't help,” he tweeted.
Sociologist Nandini Sundar tweeted, “10% reservation for poor upper castes is subverting the Constitution. Affirmative action was designed for those who have suffered social discrimination not as a poverty alleviation, employment measure. When govt jobs and educational seats are themselves disappearing, zero sense.”
Supreme Court Advocate Sanjay Hegde pointed out in a tweet that the decision would reduce the ‘general pool’ from 51% to 41%. “Let's examine the proposal. 49% already reserved on caste lines. If you do not touch 49%, this 10% quota will come out of remaining 51%. In effect open competition will be restricted to 41%. You can amend constitution but not mathematics,” tweeted Hegde, who described the announcement as another jumla.
Swaraj Party leader Yogendra Yadav tagged a report in The Print and tweeted, “Read this and ask yourself: why would a government announce a move that was held to be unconstitutional by a 9 member bench of the supreme court? Dodge, distract, deflect.”
Television anchor and commentator BarkhaDutt retweeted , “Think trigger has been panic at feedback that suggests anger in traditional 'upper caste' voters. Else why an announcement that simply cannot withstand the scrutiny of law.”
Twitter users groped for an explanation for the sudden announcement with user Arun Giri saying that with upper castes already with the BJP, what can the party possibly gain? “Upper caste reservations - won’t have much impact on elections. They anyway are lock stock barrel with BJP. What exactly is PM thinking? Not sure.”
Kawalpreet Kaur felt it defeated the purpose of reservation. “Defeats the very purpose of reservations in the first place which is to provide social equality and opportunities to all. It is not one of the poverty alleviation measure.
Another user pointed out that only nine million Indians declaring income above eight lakh Rupees, virtually everyone will be eligible for the 10% reservation ! “As per latest income tax data, approximately 90 lakh people file tax returns declaring more than 8,00,000 income. Assuming a population of 120 crores, 119 crores are in the economic weaker section.”