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New OBC creamy layer policy needs second thought for replacement with transparent and effective mechanism
HARISH DIDO | 18 May 2013

Under Article 340 of the Indian Constitution, it is obligatory for the government to promote the welfare of the Other Backward Classes (OBC). In view of difference of opinion over the raising of income ceiling as MoS in PMO Narayanasamy, along with petroleum minister Veerappa Moily and overseas Indian affairs minister Vayalar Ravi, had opposed the Rs 6 lakh proposal in the Cabinet, saying that it should be at least Rs 7 lakh.

Before taking any final decision on this issue, the Prime Minister has referred the issue for consultation. In fact, there is a need to keep in mind that higher the income ceiling, more the people would qualify for reservations with a greater inclusion of affluent sections. In other words, it could be seen as disadvantage the poor among OBCs.

The income ceiling was introduced at Rs 1 lakh in 1993 and was revised to Rs 2.50 lakh in 2004 and Rs 4.50 lakh in 2008. Now, the members of other backward classes earning over Rs 6 lakh annually will not be eligible for reservations in jobs and education with a group of ministers on Friday deciding to raise the 'creamy layer' bar from Rs 4.50 lakh as part of the revision done every four years.

Reservation in India is a form of affirmative action designed to improve the well-being of backward and under-represented communities defined primarily by their 'caste'. These are laws or merely local rules/regulations wherein a certain percentage of total available vacancies in educational institutes and government jobs are set aside for people from backward communities and others. Scheduled Castes (SC), Scheduled Tribes (ST) and Other Backward Classes (OBC) are the primary beneficiaries of the reservation policies under the Constitution, with the object of ensuring a level playing field.

The reservation system has received a mixed response from Indians since its inception. It has been praised for diminishing the gap between the upper and lower castes by allowing the latter to enjoy the same opportunities as the former in jobs, education and governance. It has also been criticized for discouraging a merit-based system and encouraging vote bank politics.

There have been consistent demand for raising the OBC creamy layer’s income which now stands raised to Rs.6 lakh income ceiling on March with a nod from the Cabinet despite the dissenting minister against dragging the revision of creamy layer further, without going into the ground realities that the raising the bar too high would crown out the poor among the backwards.

In fact, the income ceiling for OBCs, revised every four years has been hanging fire since it was vetoed by the backward lobby in the Cabinet during last June. The National Commission for Backward Classes had proposed a dual creamy layer of Rs.9 lakh for non-metros and Rs.12 lakh for metros. 

The apex court idea behind giving its decision was stated to be that the Government could make a relaxation to some extent in the income limit prescribed so that sufficient number of candidates could be made available for filling the 27 per cent quota fully. It was also the idea that the benefit derived from this would amount to concessions while the demand was that the reservation for OBCs should be as a matter of right and not as concession.  Moreover, it should be given to OBCs through a law and not by concession.

The application of income bar for OBCs is not a universal formula as there is a lot of difference of maintaining the living standard with he same income in metro and not-metro cities and simultaneously making them eligible for job reservations.  It looks to be unrealistic so far as a job reservation is concerned on the basis of income bar as with the existing increase of annual income bar to Rs.6 lakh means, a person earning Rs.50,000 per month would come under OBC category or in other words, Rs.1666 per day.

I don’t think a person earning Rs.6 lakh per annum would further require any benefit from government for reservation at certain levels.  The idea should have been as to who is the actual backward people, who can be extended the benefit rather than increasing the ceiling.  Frankly speaking, most of the candidates from general category are not even aware of what actually is happening.  It should be both if the reserved category seats are vacant because non availability of candidate, it should go to the general category and vice versa.

Linking the income of OBCs with inflation rate is not advisable then the existing raise of income is not sufficient enough.  The economic criteria should be there for determining the persons under OBC category but the benefit are required to be extending to actual deserving candidates by identifying them with the help of local social activists instead of depending upon the formula. The reservation benefit should be available, at the initial entry into services and not throughout the service career. It is seen that the person belonging to well-to-do families are enjoying the benefit of OBCs.

Over the years, those who had already reaped the benefits of reservation have been flourishing at the cost of the poor rural masses. The children of Class I officers in the government belong to the creamy layer. Is there any justification to  enjoy the benefit of reservation?  In Haryana, the reservation benefit is extended only to Class II, III and IV employees. Class I officers have been kept out of the quota ambit.

Still, it is felt that the system needs to be replaced by a more transparent and effective mechanism so that the real beneficiaries could avail this facilty.