The Rajasthan Assembly on Tuesday passed two Bills providing five per cent reservation to Gujjars and some other communities under special backward classes (SBC) and, in a one of its kind legislative attempt in India, a 14 per cent quota to economically backward classes (EBC) of unreserved categories.
The two Bills are Rajasthan Special Backward Classes (Reservation of Seats in Educational Institutes in the State and of Appointments and Posts in Services under the State) Bill 2015 and Rajasthan Economically Backward Classes (Reservation of Seats in Educational Institutes in the State and of Appointments and Posts in Services under the State) Bill 2015.
The Rajasthan Assembly passed resolutions requesting the state government to make efforts to get both the Bills included in the Ninth Schedule of the Constitution.
The criterion for reservation in the EBC category will be purely economic and not caste-based, enabling the poor among upper castes to be eligible for quotas in government jobs and educational institutions.
After a prolonged Gujjar agitation that had left about 70 dead, the Raje government in 2008 had brought a single Bill that had provided for five per cent reservation to Gujjars and 14 per cent to EBCs.
But the High Court had stayed that Bill.
Rajasthan already has quotas amounting to 49. 5 per cent (15 per cent for scheduled castes (SC), 7.5 per cent for scheduled tribes and 27 per cent for other backward castes). But the state government plans to ask Parliament to include the Rajasthan quota formula in the Ninth Schedule of the Constitution for it to pass judicial scrutiny. States such as Tamil Nadu already have quotas beyond 50 per cent, but are included in the Ninth Schedule. The Supreme Court has from time to time asked such states to review their reservation policy.
Rajasthan Parliamentary Affairs Minister R S Rathore cited this reason to defend the state government's move to have quotas beyond the 50 per cent cap. "Of course the quota limit has been crossed, but other states like Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, and Odisha had done it earlier."
Speaking to the Business Standard, Rajasthan Congress president Sachin Pilot dismissed the Vasundhara Raje government's move as an "eyewash".
"This will not pass legal scrutiny because the Constitution recognises only reservation for social and educationally backward classes. The Constitution needs to be amended before you can have reservation for economic backwardness and the BJP has the majority in Parliament so it should walk the talk and first carry out the amendment. Otherwise, it is just an eyewash merely to placate vote banks."
Development economist Professor Amitabh Kundu said: "This is not a progressive step. Economic deprivation is not a structural deprivation and needs to be addressed through affirmative action like scholarships and economic policies and not through reservations. Reservations are not a poverty alleviation programme. This is something the BJP should reconsider."
According to a senior Rajasthan bureaucrat, the Gujjar leadership had themselves suggested that the government should bring two separate Bills to avoid the fate that the attempt in 2008 suffered. The Gujjar leadership, as well as the state government, is hopeful that at least the reservation for Gujjars will stand legal scrutiny. The state government plans to defend its decision in the court with the findings of the Chopra Commission on the social and educational backwardness of the Gujjar community.
However, Kundu said reservations on economic basis and that too of such a large magnitude of 14 per cent, needs to be first deliberated at large. "Such steps cannot be short-circuited like this," he said. Recalling his experience heading the Post Sachar Evaluation Committee, Kundu said: "Even then when we suggested reservation for scheduled caste Muslims, it was as an extension to that given to SC Hindus, it was not on economic basis." He also pointed out that the Mandal Commission had factored in economic criteria to identify castes that needed reservations. This has meant several castes that have reservations in one state do not enjoy such benefits in other states.