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Demystifying the Anti-Creamy Layer

Anti-Creamy Layer K RAVI SRINIVAS The editorial (

Demystifying theAnti-Creamy Layer


he editorial (‘Myopic Oversight’, EPW, November 4, 2006) and the article by S Subramanian (‘Examining the ‘Creamy Layer’ Principle’, November 11, 2006) show that creamy layer principle is an irritant to most supporters of reservation for OBCs. In this response I would examine only the article by S Subramanian for reasons of space.

Contrary to the widely held view, the question of “creamy layer” is not decided on economic criterion alone. Even a cursory look at the criteria would show that the idea was to ensure that socially and educationally advanced persons do not corner reservations in the name of social justice for OBCs. The rationale for excluding the creamy layer has been debated at length since the early 1990s although the idea is much older.

In the Indra Sawhney case, of the nine judges in the bench, eight were in favour of excluding the creamy layer. A reading of the judgment would show why but for one judge all were in favour of such exclusion. The central government has implemented the creamy layer norm. Many state governments have implemented it. Thus by now it is a well settled principle and practice. Lest it should sound that creamy layer principle was advocated only by the courts one could point out that in 1990 itself, CPI(M) took the position that creamy layer should be excluded. Hence there is no need for a “case-theoretic method” using counterfactual situations to examine the consequences of applying the creamy layer principle. Anyway for the sake of argument one can accept the method. The problem with the example given by the author (Subramanian) is that it amounts to an exercise in tautology. The gap of 15 per cent between poor backward and rich forward candidates flies in the face of facts. If at all anything, the gap between cut-offs for OBCs and open quota cut-offs have been diminishing over the years. In Tamil Nadu the BC and MBC candidates corner a lion’s share of the seats available under the open quota, i e, seats that are available to all irrespective of caste.

If there are four such candidates (PBC

– poor backward caste, RBC – rich backward caste, PFC – poor forward caste and RFC – rich forward caste), then the situation in reality is very different. Those who score more than the cut-off marks for BCs can compete for the seats available to all while those who score less than or equal to the cut-off marks for BCs are selected, based on their marks in descending order for seats under the quota for BCs. The situation is the same whether the quota is divided between BCs and Most Backward Classes (MBCs). For example, in Tamil Nadu the 50 per cent quota is divided as 30 per cent for BCs and 20 per cent for MBCs.

In reality what happens is that the RBC candidate will have an edge over RFC candidate as (s)he can compete for seats in the BC quota if the mark is equal or less than that of the cut-off marks for that quota or can compete with RFC in open competition if the mark is more than the cut-off for BC quota. In other words BC candidates are much better placed than FC candidates. If one gets less marks one can compete with other BC candidates in the reserved quota, and if one scores very good marks one can compete in the open competition also. The PFC and RFC have no such choices. Most state governments provide many facilities to BC students including hostel facilities, scholarships that are not normally available to poor FC students. BC students are doubly blessed by the quota system as well as the other facilities that the state provides, ranging from hostel facilities to free coaching for competitive exams. About the condition of PFC the less said the better. The author would like us to believe that the reality is otherwise.

‘Capability Gap’

The author’s assumption about the capability gap is just an assumption. One can assume that the poor irrespective of caste fare worse because of their educational and social disadvantages, a consequence of their economic backwardness. For example, the picture dramatically changes if one assumes that the PFC gets 81 per cent and RBC gets 83 per cent. Since the RBC is entitled to compensatory

Economic and Political Weekly January 27, 2007 discrimination he would score 87 per cent, more than the RFC.

Both the RFC and PFC have to compete with others for seats, which may be 50 per cent, or less. The purpose of excluding the creamy layer is to ensure that the benefits of reservation are available to the most deserving among BCs. Those BC candidates who are thus excluded can still compete for what is open for all. In this the PFC has to compete with RBC as well as RFC. But since excluding anyone at this stage on any criteria like caste or poverty would be absurd, the creamy layer principle cannot be applied. One solution would be put the most disadvantaged among the PFC, RFC and RBC first and categorise them accordingly. But this would go against the constitutional principles of equality and nondiscrimination.

If all the groups classified as backward classes are equal to each other and get reservation benefits equally, there would have been no need to divide the reservation quota further. Many states have quotas earmarked for BCs, MBCs, etc. This shows that the author’s argument about equality within groups is flawed. Then B R Ambedkar was not for a reservation system in which a majority of the seats would be under reservation. He did advocate preferential treatment but the reservation system today with quotas of 50 per cent and above resembles reverse discrimination rather than preferential treatment. For reasons of space I would not examine Subramanian’s other views. My reasons for this rejoinder were driven by some theoretical flaws in his argument which do not appear substantiated by solid empirical evidence.



Economic and Political Weekly January 27, 2007

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