The Supremecourt of India on November 7, 2022, upheld ten per cent reservation for Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) in the society, a verdict that is welcomed by a majority of the people. The five-judge constitution bench of Chief Justice U U Lalit and Justices Dinesh Maheshwari, S Ravindra Bhat, Bela M Trivedi and J B Pardiwala, in a 3-2 verdict, held that the 103rd amendment to the Constitution introducing the reservation in admissions to educational institutions and government jobs was not in violation of the Constitution.
The constitutional bench held that the the EWS quota to “poorest of poor” among forward castes did not pose any danger to the Basic Structure of the Constitution.
EWS: WHAT THE COURT SAID
Reading out the verdict, Justice Maheshwari said that 103rd Constitutional amendment is valid. She said that it did not violate the basic structure of the Constitution. Justice Trivedi said that there is a need to revisit the reservation policy and it should have a time span. While holding the amendment valid, Justice Pardiwala observed that reservation cannot go on indefinitely and agreed with Justice Trivedi on a need to re-examine the reservation policy. Justice Bhatt disagreed with the majority verdict and said leaving out the poor from SCs/STs/ OBCs from availing the reservation benefit under EWS category is discriminatory. Chief Juictice Lalit also dissented on the majority verdict while agreeing with Justice Bhatt.
EWS; WHAT THE COURT LOOKED INTO?
The Supreme Court looked into mainly three issues while considering the petitions with repect to EWS. It examined whether the amendment breaches the Basic Structure by permitting the state to make special provisions, including reservation, based on economic criteria; whether the amendment violates the Basic Structure by allowing the state to make special provisions in relation to admissions to private unaided institutions; and whether the Basic Structure is trampled upon by the constitutional amendment by excluding SEBCs/OBCs/SCs/STs from the scope of the EWS quota.
EWS; WHAT DOES THE LAW SAY?
As per 103rd Amendment of 2019, Articles 15 (6) and 16 (6) were inserted in the Constitution to provide ten per cent reservation to EWS other than backward classes, SCs, and STs in higher educational institutions and initial recruitment in government jobs. It empowered state governments to provide reservations on the basis of economic backwardness – determined by criteria such as land size owned, annual income, etc.
Article 15 prohibits discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex, or place of birth. Article 16 guarantees equal opportunity in matters of public employment. The additional clauses gave Parliament the power to make special laws for EWS as it does for SCs, STs, and OBCs.
The EWS reservation was granted based on the recommendations of a commission headed by Major General (retd) S R Sinho. The UPA government constituted the commission in 2005 and the commission submitted the report in 2010.
The amendment was cleared in January 2019 soon after the BJP lost Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh elections. Solon after this was challenged in the Supreme Court. While most opposition parties, including the Congress, did not oppose the law, as many as 40 petitions were heard by the Supreme Court against it, including by the state of Tamil Nadu which has among the highest reservation in the country.