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Policy Changes Needed on Reservations

A conceptual confusion between caste and class has led to an inadequate application of caste criteria for determining the Other Backward Classes. Occupation and income, however, are more sensible criteria in determining OBCs and excluding the creamy layer from further special privileges.

Policy Changes Neededon Reservations

A conceptual confusion between caste and class has led to an inadequate application of caste criteria for determining the Other Backward Classes. Occupation and income, however, are more sensible criteria in determining OBCs and excluding the creamy layer from further special privileges.


he constitutional basis for reservations in jobs and educational institutions is Article 15(4) of the Constitution which enables the state to make “any special provision for the advancement of any socially and economically backward classes of citizens, or for the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes”. There is no mention of the term “Other Backward Classes” (OBCs) in this article or anywhere else in the Constitution except in Article 338(10) relating to the National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.

The Constitution also does not define the term “socially and educationally backward classes”. There has also been no census of backward classes in the absence of any systematic attempt to conceptualise and scientifically define these categories of citizens.

Backward Class Commissions

The first Backward Classes Commission appointed in January 1953 under Article 340 to determine the “criteria to be adopted in considering whether any section of the people” in addition to SCs and STs already notified should be treated as “socially and educationally backward classes”, formulated four criteria, viz, low position in the traditional caste hierarchy; lack of general educational advancement; inadequate representation in government service; and inadequate representation in trade, commerce and industry, on the basis of which they identified 2,399 backward castes in the entire country, classifying 837 as the “most backward”. Five out of 11 members of this commission were, however, opposed to linking caste with backwardness, and recorded dissent. Kaka Kalekar, the chairman, also opposed the acceptance of caste as the basis of backwardness, but did not record a formal dissent.

The Kalekar Commission Report submitted on March 30, 1955 was presented in the Parliament with a memorandum on September 3, 1956. A significant observation made in the memorandum was that it “cannot be denied that the caste system is the greatest hindrance in the way of our progress towards an egalitarian society, and the recognition of the specified castes are backward may serve to maintain and even perpetuate the existing distinctions on the basis of caste”.

There was no discussion on this report in the Parliament at the time. Afterwards, the government made efforts “to discover some criteria other than caste which could be of practical application in determining the backward classes”. One suggestion was to link backwardness to occupational communities. It was decided against all-India lists of backward classes being drawn up or any reservation made for any such class “other than Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes”. The ministry of home affairs addressed all the state governments stating that while they “have the discretion to choose their own criteria, in view of the government of India it would be better to apply economic tests than to go by caste”.

Nearly 23 years after the submission of the report of the first Backward Classes Commission, presidential order under Article 340 was issued in January 1978 setting up another Backward Classes Commission consisting of five members with B P Mandal (ex-MP) as chairman, with similar terms of reference: to determine the criteria for defining the socially and educationally backward classes, recommend steps for the backward classes so identified and examine the desirability of reservations of appointments or posts for them.

Using the terms “castes” and “classes” interchangeably as synonyms, the commission evolved 11 indicators or criteria for determining social and educational backwardness and grouped them under three broad heads, social, educational and economic, giving a weightage of three points to each of the four social indicators. Applying these 11 indicators to all castes covered by the survey for a particular state, the commission classified all castes which had a score of 50 per cent (i e, 11 points) or more as socially and educationally backward. The percentage of such backward classes, called OBCs by the commission, has been worked out by them on the basis of the caste/community-wise population figures from the census records of 1931 and reported to be 52 per cent – 43.7 per cent Hindu OBCs and 8.4 per cent non-Hindu OBCs. However, in view of the Supreme Court judgments holding that total reservation under Articles 15(4) and 16(4) should below 50 per cent, the commission recommended 27 per cent reservation for OBCs in all government services and recruitment to public sector undertakings under the central and state governments, and also in technical and professional institutions, both in the centre and the states.

Economic and Political Weekly June 30, 2007

It may be worthwhile here to mention briefly the indicators or criteria applied by the commission to castes/classes to determine which of them were backward. The four “social” criteria were, being considered socially backward by others; dependence mainly on manual labour for livelihood; percentage of males and females getting married at an age below 17 years being higher than the state average; and, participation of females in work being less than the state average. The three “educational” criteria were, number of children in the age-group of 5-15 who never attended school being at least 25 per cent above the state average; dropout rate of students in the age-group 5-15 being at least 25 per cent above the state average; and the proportion of matriculates being 25 per cent below the state average. The four “economic” criteria adopted were, average value of assets being at least 25 per cent below the state average; the number of families living in ‘kuchcha’ houses being at least 25 per cent above the state average; source of drinking water being beyond half a kilometre for more than 50 per cent of the households; and, the number of households having taken consumption loans being at least 25 per cent above the state average.

Action Taken on Mandal

This report was basically a rehash of the first Backward Classes Commission Report rejected by the government, inasmuch as it identified backward classes on the basis of castes, and put the government in a difficult position. Consequently, no action was taken on it for nearly a decade. It was suddenly resurrected by the National Front government in 1990 to fulfil the promise to implement it made in its election manifesto. There is no evidence that this report was examined by the government at any level, or there was any kind of discussion or debate on it, or any attempt to evolve a political consensus before announcing the decision to implement its recommendation to provide 27 per cent reservation quota for the OBCs in the civil posts and services under the government of India and also the central public sector undertakings and financial institutions including public sector banks. It was decided to cover backward classes common in the Mandal Commission Report and the state governments’ lists, and an “expert committee would examine the question of reservation for those castes which did not find place in the state list, but were in the Mandal Commission list”.

Reservation for OBCs

In a landmark judgment in Inamdar and Others vs State of Maharashtra and Others (August 2005), the Supreme Court “abolished state quotas in private unaided professional colleges”. This led to the passing of the Constitution (93rd Amendment) Act, 2005 by the Parliament in December 2005 inserting the following clause (5) after clause (4) in Article 15 of the Constitution:

  • (5) Nothing in this article or in sub clause
  • (g) of Clause (1) of Article 19 shall prevent the state from making any special provision by law, for the advancement of any socially and educationally backward classes of citizens or for the scheduled castes or
  • Life Eternal through Learning NATIONAL COUNCIL OF EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH AND TRAINING Sri Aurobindo Marg, New Delhi-110 016
    Priority Areas of Research under ERIC, NCERT Educational Research and Innovations Committee (ERIC) of NCERT has identified the following priority areas of research. Research proposals related to these areas will receive priority for providing financial support by the ERIC in coming years. Curricular Areas : In the backdrop of National Curriculum Framework (NCF–2005) it is important that each curricular area is revisited by the researchers and probed in depth to find answers to problems related to teaching-learning of different subjects. In this context the status and role of arts, crafts and aesthetics; health, yoga and physical education; work education and peace education also need to be examined. The linguistic diversity of India poses complex challenges but also a range of opportunities. Language teaching needs to be multilingual not only in terms of the number of languages offered to children but also in terms of evolving strategies that would use the multilingual classroom as a resource. Issues related to language as medium of instruction and multilingualism, therefore, assume significance. Research proposals will also be welcome in the area of comparative studies on concerns related to school education. National Concerns: One of the foremost concerns is ensuring enrolment and retention of all children in the school. Commitment to Universal Elementary Education presupposes representation of cultural diversity, ensuring enrolment of children from different social and economic backgrounds with variations in physical, psychological and intellectual characteristics in the education process. In this context, disadvantages in education arising due to inequalities of gender, caste, language, culture, religion or disabilities need to be addressed. Research related to education of the disadvantaged groups, inclusive education, gender equity, education of rural children and functioning of rural schools becomes significant in this background. Vocational education and environment education are two emerging concerns that require attention from sociological, psychological, economic and pedagogical point of view. Some other concerns in this context like psycho-social development of children, education for life skills, and education policies and practices related to school education will also receive priority. Systemic Concerns: The curricular vision presented in NCF–2005 needs to be supported and sustained by systemic reforms. Important among these are the system for preparing teachers – both pre-service and in-service, system of producing textbooks and learning materials and the examination system. Integration of ICT in education as a pedagogic, administrative and monitoring tool and the related practices requires extensive research for maximum efficiency within the boundaries of democracy, human dignity and freedom. Classroom processes and practices and management strategies are other useful areas of research in this context. Pedagogic Practices and Learning Processes : Our current concern in curriculum development and reform is to make it an inclusive and meaningful experience for children. This requires a fundamental change in how we think of learners and the process of learning. Within the ambit of child centred pedagogy, research in areas like thinking and learning processes of children, pedagogic approaches of training teachers, text-analysis and text-learning dynamics becomes crucial. Any other area as per National Curriculum Framework–2005 (NCF–2005) not covered above : Research proposals may be submitted in prescribed format. The format and necessary guidelines can be downloaded from NCERT website or can be obtained by post from the Head, Department of Educational Research and Policy Perspectives (DERPP), National Council of Educational Research and Training, Sri Aurobindo Marg, New Delhi 110 016. Tel: 011-26563980, Fax: 011-26868419 e-mail:

    Economic and Political Weekly June 30, 2007

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    Economic and Political Weekly June 30, 2007

    scheduled tribes insofar as such special provisions relate to their admission to educational institutions including private educational institutions; whether aided or unaided by the state, other than the minority educational institutions referred to in clause (1) of Article 30.

    Soon after the passing of this amendment and before any parliamentary or public debate on the contents of the law to be enacted for the purpose, the human resource development (HRD) minister declared the government’s intention to add a 27 per cent quota for OBCs in the premier government controlled/aided educational institutions like the IITs, IIMs, AIIMS and the central universities, raising the total percentage of reserved seats to 49.5.

    Critique of Mandal

    The Mandal Commission Report is based on a basic conceptual confusion. They have used the terms caste, class and “community” interchangeably as synonyms. These are well known concepts of sociology, which are different in content and connotation; and the differences are absolutely vital.

    The Online Dictionary of the Social Sciences defines these terms as follows:

    Caste is a status group, within a system of hierarchical social stratification in which membership is hereditary... Caste differentiations are usually based on religious and mythical traditions... Caste is maintained from generation to generation by the practice of within-caste marriage (endogamy) and strict formality in social interaction with other castes. The term class is used in various ways in sociology. It usually implies a group of individuals sharing a common situation within a social structure, usually their shared place in the structure of ownership and control of the means of production... class can also refer to groups of individuals with a shared characteristic relevant to some socio-economic measurement or ranking (for example, all individuals earning over $ 50,000 a year); it then has a statistical meaning rather than being defined by social relationships... Community is defined as a society whose people’s relations with each other are direct and personal and where a complex web of ties link people in mutual bonds of emotion and obligation.

    The main differences between caste and class which are analytically significant, are the following:

    (i) The membership of a caste is hereditary or by birth which is not so with a class.

    (ii) Caste is a closed group characterised by endogamy, while class is an open group that one automatically joins when one shares a common situation with other individuals.

    (iii) There is vertical mobility in class so that a person can move up to a higher or go down to a class considered lower in social hierarchy; and there is horizontal mobility also as one can cease to share a common situation with one group of individuals and start doing so with another group. There is no such mobility in caste.

    (iv) A class can generally be distinguished from another class in terms of some economic criteria, e g, income, occupation, ownership of land or other means of production, place of residence (e g, slum dwellers). While some castes may have a traditional or hereditary occupation, they are basically not economic groups and “are usually based on religious and mythical traditions”.

    Had the Mandal Commission kept these conceptual differences in view and also the fact that the government had already explicitly rejected caste as the basis of class and suggested the adoption of “some criteria other than caste”, linking backwardness to “occupational communities” and “the application of economic tests” the mess which has been created by their identifying caste with class would have been avoided; and perhaps their report accepted by the government nearly a decade earlier.

    It is a fact of life that social and educational backwardness is invariably the direct consequence of economic backwardness. A brahmin living in a slum and not earning enough money to be able to educate his children would be socially and educationally backward; while a low caste person engaged in business or trade and sending his children to public school may become socially and educationally advanced.

    Adopting castes as the basis for identifying socially and educationally backward classes, the Mandal Commission worked out their percentage in the total population of the country in the manner indicated above. The figure of 52 per cent OBCs thus worked out itself suggests that there was something fundamentally wrong with the methodology which yielded such incredible results.

    According to 2001 Census, out of India’s population of 1,028,737,436 the scheduled castes comprise 1,66,635,700 and scheduled tribes 84,326,240 that is, 16.2 per cent and 8.2 per cent, respectively. There is no data on OBCs in the census. However, according to National Sample Survey’s 1990-2000 round, around 36 per cent of the country’s population is defined as belonging to the other backward Classes (OBCs). The proportion falls to 32 per cent on excluding Muslim OBCs. A survey conducted in 1998 by National Family Health Statistics (NFHS) puts the proportion of non-Muslim OBCs as 29.8 per cent. The NSSO data also shows that already

    23.5 per cent of college seats are occupied by OBCs. That’s just 8.6 per cent short of their share of population according to the same survey (from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia).

    Policy Changes Suggested

    The policy of reservation for SCs and STs has been followed for more than half a century and for OBCs more than one and a half decades. There has hardly been any attempt to monitor and assess the impact of reservations in improving the lot of the beneficiaries and the categories and communities to which they belong and in bridging the gap between the reserved and the general categories of citizens. There is an urgent need for such empirical studies, and for putting in place a system for studies on a regular basis to provide necessary inputs for determining the required changes in relevant policies and programmes being pursued or implemented.

    In the next decennial census also, besides the members of SCs and STs, data regarding the number of SC and ST families benefited by reservations by the centre and the state, their representations in different classes/categories of central and state government jobs and in private corporate sector jobs, and the number who now belong to the “creamy layer” may also be collected, separately for rural and urban areas for each state/UT.

    Both the central and state governments have been pursuing their reservation policies independently of each other and without any coordination. States have been setting up their own backward classes commissions, and have their own lists of backward classes. The percentage of reservation has been varying from state to state, some states exceeding the 50 per cent ceiling, or even providing reservation for a particular religious community. As the constitutional provisions relating to reservations are meant to tackle the national problem of SCs, STs and backward classes, there has to be necessary coordination

    Economic and Political Weekly June 30, 2007 between the central and state governments in all matters relating to reservation policy so as to ensure adherence to some basic principles and uniformity. This coordination could be achieved through institutions like the National Development Council (of which all chief ministers are also members) or Inter-State Council where all contemplated reservation measures could be discussed and a national consensus evolved.

    Reservations need to be restricted to the really needy who have been oppressed and exploited for long and cannot reasonably be expected to come up on the social and economic ladder without such special dispensation. Those who are economically well-off, or one of whose generation has already availed the benefit of reservation, should be excluded. The concept of creamy layer, and the restriction of reservation to only one generation need to be uniformly applied to all reserved categories.

    Reservations in promotions need to be consistent with the “maintenance of efficiency in administration” as enjoined by Article 335 of the Constitution; and should in no case result in a senior and former boss serving under a junior promoted under the promotion quota. In such a situation the erstwhile senior should either be given proforma promotion or shifted to work under someone else senior to him.

    While both the central and the state governments have been enthusiastically implementing the policy of reservations in appointments or posts envisaged in Article 16(4), practically very little has been done by them by way of “affirmative action”, or measures for the advancement of any socially and educationally backward class of citizens, or for the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes as per the provisions of Article 15(4) of the Constitution. A conscious and comprehensive policy in this regard now needs to be formulated, vigorously implemented and adequately monitored to ensure that all these reserved categories advance economically, socially and educationally on par with the general category of citizens within a specified time

    – frame and do not need the crutches of reservation.

    As regards OBCs, it would make much more sense to go by two tangible criteria, viz, occupation and mode of living. All slum/footpath dwellers or those living in kuchcha houses or low income group (LIG) or ‘pakka’ houses with less than 300 sq ft of carpet area, all unskilled manual workers, manual workers in factories, mines, powerlooms, etc, working as wage labour, domestic servants, fisherfolk, landless agricultural labourers, farmers holding less than four acres of irrigated or six acres of unirrigated land, rural artisans, handloom weavers depending on master weavers or other agencies for supply of inputs and earning only wages, wage labour in carpet weaving, class IV government employees, non-gazetted government servants, petty peddlers/hawkers/‘thelawalas’, railway coolies, sweepers, shepherds, all below poverty line families, blacksmiths/cobblers/ masons/carpenters working as only wage labour and not contractors, and several other similar categories could be identified, and a list of such backward classes drawn up. The number of persons in most of these categories may already be known. From these numbers those already covered as SCs or STs would need to be subtracted. All such categories could be identified and comprehensively covered in the next decennial census. In such enumeration, the creamy layer may automatically get excluded. Identifying OBCs in this manner may not be utterly disadvantageous from the political point of view also, as most of these categories of people tend to get concentrated in certain areas, and could be cultivated as vote banks.


    Economic and Political Weekly June 30, 2007

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