NEW DELHI: The Prime Minister led Narendra Modi cabinet on Wednesday made two significant decisions pertaining to Other Backward Classes in the country by raising the ‘creamy layer’ ceiling of OBCs by Rs 2 lakh and announcing the setting up of a commission to work out sub-categorisation within Other Backward Classes (OBCs) for a “more equitable distribution of reservation benefits”.
The government increased the ceiling of ‘creamy layer’ from the existing Rs 6 lakh per annum to Rs 8 lakh per annum, implying OBC families earning up to Rs 8 lakh per annum will not be considered in the creamy layer and they would be able to avail reservation benefits in central government jobs and education. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and Minister of state for Social Justice and Empowerment Krishan Pal Gurjar, who announced the decision, also said that the government was actively considering a proposal to extend the decision to public sector undertakings as well.
However, Jaitley ruled out any possibility of review of reservation mechanism in the country. The cabinet note containing proposal for raising income bar defining ‘creamy layer’ for OBC reservation to Rs 8 lakh per annum was sent by the ministry of social justice and empowerment last year. The ‘creamy layer’ ceiling disqualifies members of the backward community from availing 27 percent reservations in employment and education. ‘Creamy layer’ has always been a sensitive issue for political parties as OBCs want the salary bar to be liberal to include relatively affluent families in the quota ambit, the upper castes complain that it is only “forwards among backwards” who benefit from the quota regime.
On the decision of setting up of a commission for sub-categorisation of OBCs in the Central list, Jaitley said the decision has been taken to ensure that the benefits extended to OBCs reach all the communities. The commission--that will be set up under the ministry of social justice and empowerment-- will submit its report in 12 weeks from the day its chairperson is appointed. Jaitley pointed out 11 states, including Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Jharkhand, West Bengal and the Jammu region in Jammu and Kashmir already have such categorisation in state government jobs. “There is no sub categorisation in the central list. The proposed commission will examine the extent of inequitable distribution of benefits of reservation among caste and communities, including the broad categories of OBCs included in the central list,” Jaitley said.
The now-defunct National Commission for Backward classes (NCBC) had first recommended sub-categorisation within the central OBC list in 2011. While briefing media, Jaitley said that the same recommendation was given by the Parliamentary Standing Committee in 2012-13. “After inter-ministerial consultations, it was accepted. With this, those in the broad category of OBCs who were till now devoid of benefits of reservation will get the benefits. There will be more equitable distribution,” Jaitley said.
The NDA government’s move for sub-categorisation of OBCs is significant, as it comes ahead of Assembly polls late this year and early next year in about 10 States, such as Gujarat, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. The recommendation has been made to distinguish between extremely backward classes and 'forward' groups among the OBCs.
Pertinently, during the recently ended Monsoon session of Parliament, the Modi government faced a setback when the Opposition in Rajya Sabha passed an amendment and stalled the passage of a Bill to give Constitutional status to NCBC. In an embarrassment for the government, the opposition’s amendment to change the name of the proposed commission as National Commission for Socially and Educationally Backward Classes instead of National Commission for Backward Classes was approved by the Rajya Sabha. The Bill has been returned to Lok Sabha, which can either accept or reject the amendment and send it back to the Rajya Sabha. A joint session could also be convened if both the Houses differ on a Bill.
While briefing journalists on Wednesday, Gurjar said that the NCBC has recommended sub-categorisation within OBCs into three categories--Extremely Backward Classes (Group ‘A'), More Backward Classes (Group 'B') and Backward Classes (Group 'C'). “It has been recommended that the Extremely Backward Classes should be grouped into a separate group which could include aboriginal tribes, vimukta jatis, nomadic and semi- nomadic tribes, wandering classes etc," the minister said.
Earlier, the revisions in the ‘creamy layer’ ceiling were made in 2004 when Rs 1 lakh ceiling fixed in 1993 was raised to Rs 2.5 lakh, in 2008 when it was further increased to Rs 4.5 lakhs and in 2013 when it became Rs 6 lakh. In 2013, the hike cleared by the UPA government from Rs 4.5 lakh to Rs 6 lakh was much lower than the NCBC proposal that it be fixed at Rs 12 lakh for urban areas and Rs 9 lakh for other areas. The present hike in ‘creamy layer’ ceiling is modest considering that in 2015, the NCBC had recommended that the government hike the bar to Rs 15 lakh per annum. The NCBC had actually pegged the revision at Rs 10.5 lakh but had to redraft its recommendation to Rs 15 lakh after it came under fire from the parliamentary committee on welfare of OBCs.