Justice Eshwaraiah: Savarna reservation is an assault on the rights of SCs, STs and OBCs

On the pretext of earmarking a quota for the poor savarnas, this Constitutional amendment is an attempt to smother the basic spirit of the Constitution and the concept of social justice. It will only benefit the well-off savarnas. What is most painful is that when the Constitution and social justice were under attack, most of the representatives of the Dalitbahujans maintained a stoic silence. These are Justice Eshwaraiah’s observations

Justice Eshwaraiah: Savarna reservation is an assault on the rights

Justice V. Eshwaraiah, former chairman of the National Commission for Backward Classes and former chief justice of the Andhra Pradesh High Court, says that the central government’s move to extend reservations to poor savarnas will certainly be shot down by the Supreme Court. The reason: the Constitution does not provide for reservations on economic basis. He believes that social backwardness and economic backwardness are distinct from each other. Edited excerpts of a conversation with him:

Parliament has given its nod to the 124th Constitutional Amendment Bill, providing for 10 per cent reservation to poor savarnas. What is your take on this development?

First, the Bill violates the basic spirit of the Constitution, besides being against the concept of social justice. As for the poor savarnas getting 10 per cent reservation, nothing of the sort is going to happen. Those who are really poor will not benefit from it.

Why?

The Bill seeks to insert a new sub-clause into Article 15, empowering the central and the state governments to grant up to 10 per cent reservation to the backward sections of the general category people in jobs and educational institutions. Now, just look how the Bill defines the poor. Those who earn up to Rs 8 lakh per year are poor, those who own houses built on plots of up to 1,000 square feet in urban areas are poor and those who own up to five acres of farmland are also poor!

Does this mean that the genuinely poor would get nothing out of it?

You are right. It is clear that the parameters used to define poverty are such that even middle-class and upper-class savarnas would also become eligible for reservations. And only they would be its beneficiaries. The genuinely poor would get nothing. It would be just like the weaker sections of SCs, STs and OBCs not drawing any benefits from reservations.

  • Poor savarnas would not benefit
  • The government has framed the new Bill to benefit rich savarnas
  • Savarnas have challenged the decision in the Supreme Court for still more benefits
  • I will request the President not to give his assent to the Bill
  • If the President approves the Bill, I will move the Supreme Court

If the Supreme Court upholds the new law and removes the 50 per cent cap on reservations, do you think it will also benefit the OBCs?

My point is that the parameters that the government has set for identifying the poor – just give that much to the SCs, STs and OBCs of the country and we will not demand reservations at all. Let the annual income of every SC, ST and OBC family be Rs 8 lakh, let all of them own 1,000-square-foot houses in cities and five acres of land in rural areas. I would like to reiterate that the government’s decision is against the Constitution and social justice. And who will suffer because of the additional quota? The fact is that 10 per cent reservation would hurt the interests of the communities in the reserved category.

Justice V. Eshwaraiah, former chairman, National Commission for Backward Classes

Do you think the new law will be challenged in courts?

It would not stand judicial scrutiny. Look at it like this. There is no provision for reservations on economic basis in the Constitution. During the debate in the Rajya Sabha, Ravishankar Prasad was referring to the Directive Principles of State Policy. But even they do not talk of reservations on economic basis. Article 46 of the Constitution says, “The State shall promote, with special care, the education and economic interests of the weaker sections of the people, and, in particular of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, and shall protect them from social injustice and all forms of social exploitation.” Article 15(4) provides for reservations in educational institutions while provisions for reservations in posts and services under the government are in Articles 16(4), 16(4A) and 16(4B). The Constitution also has some other provisions for preserving and promoting the rights and interests of STs in different parts of the country so that they can join the national mainstream.

What should be noted here is that these provisions talk of preserving the economic interests of the SCs and the STs so as to protect them from exploitation and social injustice. Here, I would like to quote the Supreme Court judgment in the case, R. Chitralekha versus the State of Mysore and others (1964), in which the court rejected the concept of reservation on economic basis. After 27 per cent reservation for OBCs was approved in 1990 under the V.P. Singh government, the following year, the P.V. Narasimha Rao government issued an office memorandum intimating reservation for savarnas but the Supreme Court turned it down saying that there was no provision for reservations on economic basis in the Constitution and if such a provision is made, it will be unconstitutional.

Almost all political parties have extended their support to the savarna reservation Bill. What have you to say about this?

The scene in Parliament reminded me of the disrobing of Draupadi described in the Mahabharata. Everyone knew that what was happening was wrong but everyone kept quiet. All SC, ST and OBC MPs knew perfectly well that the Bill was illogical and whimsical. Just tell me: Does the government have any data? Does it know how many savarnas are poor? When there is no data, then how can they provide for 10 per cent reservations? As I said earlier, everyone knew this but no one protested. I tell you, in this country, five per cent savarnas are dominating politics. They are vocal. It is unfortunate that the parties of Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati also support them. I would like to praise RJD [Rashtriya Janata Dal], which openly opposed the Bill. I also praise MIM leader [Asaduddin] Owaisi, who said that the Bill was against the principles of social justice. I call upon the SC, ST and OBC voters to punish the parties that supported this Bill in the next elections.

Savarnas have challenged the Bill in the Supreme Court. Your view?

They are just pretending. They do not want that the Supreme Court to reject it. They want to get more provisions for their benefit added to the Bill. I have decided to move the Supreme Court on this issue. I am writing a letter to the President today, requesting him not assent to the Bill as it is unconstitutional and against social justice. But if he still clears it, I will challenge the government’s decision in the Supreme Court.

Translation: Amrish Herdenia; copy-editing: Anil


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The Case for Bahujan Literature

Mahishasur: A people’s hero

Dalit Panthers: An Authoritative History

Mahishasur: Mithak wa Paramparayen

The Common Man Speaks Out

Jati ke Prashn Par Kabir

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