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Notification for income-based OBC sub-quotas rejected

Punjab & Haryana High Court quashes notification

The Punjab and Haryana High Court, on August 7, quashed a Haryana Government notification that sought to create sub-quotas within the OBC quota based on incomes. The notification was issued on 17 August 2016 under the Backward Classes (Reservation in Services and Admission to Educational Institutions) Act 2016. It said that the children of parents with gross annual income of up to Rs 3 lakh will get the first preference in reservations in jobs and educational institutions. The remaining quota will go to those with annual incomes between Rs 3.1 lakh and Rs 6 lakh.

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A bench of Justices Mahesh Grover and Mahabir Singh Sindhu said that instead of benefiting the OBCs, the notification would deprive a section of this class of their rights. Moreover, the government had failed to present any data to justify the decision. The court said, “On the basis of some verifiable data about certain castes/classes with their vocations being backward, the State would have been well justified to identify such castes to treat them socially more backward. But this has not happened and instead, what has resulted, is a complete exclusion of those with income beyond Rs.3 lakhs, regardless of their caste, vocation etc.”

The court also said, “Evidently, even if the intention of the State may not be doubted, and it is nobody’s case that there is an ulterior motive in making such a prescription, yet, the object intended to be achieved has not been achieved; rather it has resulted in exclusion of a section of people, though backward and it possibly may have resulted in excluding those who are identified as socially backward by the Backward Class Commission itself.”

The court was hearing the petition of a student seeking admission to medical colleges, filed through his counsel Prithvi Raj Badal. The petition said that the notification was violative of the Supreme Court’s judgment in “Indra Sawhney and Others versus Union of India” and other cases.

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 Opposing the petition, the state government said that its notification was valid and was aimed at extending the benefits of reservation to those in the margins of society. Interestingly, the government also relied on the Indra Sawhney case to make its point. The government said that reservations can be targeted at who need them the most only by setting economic criteria.

The Punjab & Haryana High Court, Chandigarh

The court, however, contended that the government could not produce credible and verifiable data about the backwardness of the section that it wanted reservations to benefit. Describing the notification as arbitrary, it said, “Supposing a Class IV employee working in a metropolitan city, earns more than his counterpart in a suburb, or a small town but continues to remain economically disadvantaged on account of high costs of living, while his counterpart has more liquidity due to low costs of living and invests wisely to secure income for himself from other sources. The one in a big city would continue to remain as socially and economically disadvantaged though empowered in many other ways … In its application of the economic criteria as the one dictated by the State it helps the one who has lesser salaried income as he has acquired more from other sources but it has no co-relation to his social status. Both have not been liberated either from shackles of poverty or gained social status.”

The court further said, “The notification fixing 6 lakh as the limit is not in question. What is challenged is the sub-classification granting preference to those with income up to 3 lakh”. According to the judgment, once this method is accepted certain categories though identified as backward will be treated as the creamy layer with an income more than 6 lakhs. “Any further sub-classification in the list of backwards without any inputs can be termed to be an arbitrary classification that ensures reverse discrimination which closes the doors of equitable distribution amongst the backward classes,” the judgment says.

Relying on the Supreme Court ruling in the Indra Sawhney case, the court said that income could be one of the indicators of social upliftment but it couldn’t be the sole criterion.

The court concluded: “The end result is that the State has given a benefit with one hand only to take it away with the other. There is absolutely no established correlation between the socially backward and the economic deprived and thus, on the said reasoning, we are of the opinion that the impugned notification has to be held to be bad in law and deserves to be set aside.”

Translated by Amrish Herdenia