India Intelligence Report

 

 

 SC Verdicts Cuts Up Political Plans

  In far-reaching verdicts, the Supreme Court (SC) asked the Government for “compelling reasons” for including particular castes that are entitled for reservations and “quantifiable” data to retain those castes in the list has created churn in the caste-politics.
 

 

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In far-reaching verdicts, the Supreme Court (SC) asked the Government for “compelling reasons” for including particular castes that are entitled for reservations and “quantifiable” data to retain those castes in the list has created churn in the caste-politics. It also wanted all quotas for all “weaker” sections not to exceed 50%. In another important conclusion, the SC asked for the “creamy layer” of the Scheduled Castes to be kept out of the reservation system and said that the Government that it is not bound to reserve seats for promotions. However, it allowed for such benefits if the Government collects “quantifiable data showing backwardness of the class and inadequacy of representation.” The SC reiterated that the Government cannot see the concept of creamy layer in isolation but also consider “compelling reasons, namely backwardness, inadequacy of representation and overall administrative efficiency” as “constitutional requirements” to maintain a “structure of equality of opportunity” as required by “Article 16.”

The sticking point in India is the lack of scientific data to quantify the compelling reasons for different castes clambering for reservation benefits. Their advancement in terms of economics, education, and social status, the three major parameters specified by the Mandal Commission that had recommended, is not known and the lists were created by the British in 1931 and has never been updated since. Mandal had also broken these three parameters into 11 sub-parameters that should then be used to rank and rate each caste to determine if people within each caste would qualify for reservation or not. The whole suite of parameters that need to be considered for inclusion in the list include marriage patterns, employment of women, literacy rates, drop out rates from schools, net-worth levels, type of housing, sources of drinking water, indebtedness levels, etc. No such record-keeping, surveys, information, data banks, or even mechanisms exist today to determine the true levels of backwardness of castes. The Government has disclosed its intentions for surveying the population but has not revealed survey questionnaire, sampling techniques, data collection models, statistical model selection, mechanisms to collect data, systems to verify accuracy of data, evaluation of quality of survey, etc.

In the absence of such data, there is a burning desire among politicians to grant more reservations to voter banks to secure themselves a political career and future. These are the fundamentals driving the caste and quota politics of today which goes against the basic tenets of the Constitution and even the Mandal Commission. These are the holes identified by the SC and castigated the Government saying “You announce the policy without having the data. You play the game first and frame the rules later.”

Therefore, using even a nominal survey of populations, certain castes usually generating a majority of the politicians would automatically be excluded. In order to protect their own clans, political allies of the Federal Government are demanding the use of the Ninth Schedule of the Constitution to introduce new reservation laws so it is beyond judicial scrutiny. The SC has already remarked that a 9-judge panel will be reviewing a slew of constitutionally-suspect legislation introduced in the past several years to escape scrutiny.

The immediate effect of these verdicts would be the proposed legislation that seeks to create a quota for so-called Other Backward Classes (OBCs) in unaided and aided educational institutions. These verdicts will also force a review of the list of OBCs listed by the Mandal Commission. At the center of the secondary review is the issue of “creamy layer”—a euphemism for a section of OBCs who have cornered all benefits for themselves or their dependents. A recent conference of Chief Ministers and Education Ministers apparently saw a sharp division in how they saw the creamy layer with some for continuing their benefits while others calling for the cancellation of such benefits.

Strangely, the empowerment introduced by the Mandal Commission has seen large scale power-grab in the Hindi belt where Yadav legislators have grabbed Uttar Pradesh and Bihar . For the last 16 years, these states along with Tamil Nadu (for more than 40 years) in the South have seen the states ruled by OBC and Scheduled Castes (SC). Research has shown that the condition of SC and Scheduled Tribes (ST) in these states along with communist dominated West Bengal and Kerala are remarkably worse with such leadership Dalits in India. It is not clear what additional empowerment is needed in these states other than what is already in practice and what is seen as the exit criteria for such benefits.

However, literacy rates, economic advancement, and social awareness have increased all over India and historical perceived discrimination has already seen political empowerment. When a comprehensive survey is done, assuming it will be fair and will be done, it is very likely that a large portion of those deriving these benefits will automatically fit into the creamy layer and be divested of these benefits. These might lead to a more intense power-struggle between the creamy OBC and those left out of the ambit of development. However, with a good chunk of reservation quotas remaining unfulfilled even today, it is not clear how the politicians plan to create more reservation that could be filled.

In the middle of this debate is a startling revelation by the Chairman of the Technical Committee of the Mandal Commission noted social scientist Professor B.K. Roy Burman that B.P. Mandal had pre-judged the percentage of the OBCs in the nation to 54% without any scientific basis. The National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) report quoted the OBC population as 37.4% in rural areas and 31.4% in urban areas while the Mandal report estimated the OBC population figure of 54% using the 1931 census data. Burman says that the technical committee was allowed to look at the unpublished 1951 survey data which placed the proportion as “around 14%.” Later, the Commission added some smaller communities to the list and even then “the figure did not go beyond 31 per cent.” It appears that the Mandal commission wanted to spend the money and effort to try “reaching the conclusion” of 54% as pegged by Mandal. Burman said that he and his two other colleagues quickly resigned from the Commission, disavowed the results, and “strongly and swiftly” distanced themselves from the Report that sought legitimacy by citing their names as surveyors.

Some sundry former judges and lawyers who have made a career out of caste politics though Commission work and participating in Government Committees were quick to decry the verdicts as “advisory jurisdiction.” They criticized the Law Minister H.R. Bharadwaj for failing to defend the Parliament and asked for his resignation. Others contested the SC’s 13 judge view saying that the issue under discussion was not the “creamy layer” and their opinion was gratuitous. These criticisms are from those thrive on the status quo and do not want change.

Meanwhile, while the Federal Government was cautious saying that it will study the verdicts carefully before proposing an action as a ruling by the Constitutional Bench is not an opinion but is binding law as is this is the supreme body competent to interpret the Constitution. Its communist allies who support the Government from the outside were less charitable. They accused the SC of a “very retrograde” ruling calling it a “judicial assault on the most oppressed sections of our society.” Of course, as always, the communists have completely missed the point. The SC did not say that the reservation be stopped. They are asking for a set of rules that defines who can qualify and who are “the most oppressed sections of our society.”

Regardless, the Tamil Nadu (TN) Government that has some of the most repressive quota reservations in the state oriented to propagate some castes which produces more politicians claimed that the SC verdict, especially the 50% limitation, is not applicable to it. Its 69% reservation under review on October 30, TN says that there are historical reasons to defend its law as it has been created under the Ninth Schedule and therefore “immune from judicial review.” Citing back to observations by the British in the erstwhile Madras Presidency, TN argued that the 1991 census, the percentage of the SC/ST and Backward Classes in the total population of the State was 88%, but reservation was provided only for 69%. TN also sought to gain an exception from the ruling that allowed for “extraordinary situations.”