KOLKATA: The Mamata Banerjee government's announcement of 10 per cent reservation in government jobs and educational institutions for the economically weaker sections (EWS) in the general category makes West Bengal the fourth state after Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Telangana to cross the 50 per cent quota cap fixed by the Supreme Court.
The announcement on Tuesday came six months after the BJP-led NDA government at the Centre approved a similar proposal.
Bengal so far had a 45 per cent reservation in government jobs and educational institutes -- 22 per cent for Scheduled Castes (SCs), six per cent for Scheduled Tribes (STs), 17 per cent for Other Backward Classes (OBCs).
The Trinamool Congress (TMC) government's decision of adding a 10 per cent quota for EWS now takes the total quota beyond the 50 per cent cap, mandated by the Supreme Court.
Among the three other states, Maharashtra earlier had a 68 per cent reservation in educational institutions and government jobs, 16 per cent of which was for the Maratha people.
After the cabinet approved a 10 per cent quota in EWS, Maharashtra became the state with the highest percentage of reservation at 78.
Tamil Nadu Chief Minister K Palaniswami assured the state Assembly on Tuesday that the 69 per cent reservation in the state would continue, while a decision on implementing the 10 per cent quota for the EWS category would be taken after the political parties arrived at a consensus.
The Telangana Assembly had earlier approved a bill providing for a 12 per cent quota for the socially and economically backward classes among Muslims in educational institutions and government jobs.
The bill increased the quota for Muslims from four to 12 per cent and for STs, from six to 10 per cent, thereby taking the quantum of reservation to 62 per cent.
After a state cabinet meeting, West Bengal Parliamentary Affairs Minister Partha Chatterjee said the details about the eligibility criteria would be announced later, but those already covered by other quotas would not be considered for this reservation.
"It is a historic decision. There are many factors to define someone who belongs to the economically weaker section. These details will be mentioned in the government order that will be issued soon," he said.
State Backward Classes Welfare Minister Rajib Banerjee said the move would not adversely affect those sections of the society that already enjoyed the benefits of reservation.
"The reservation for the SCs, STs and OBCs remain as they are. This new quota is for those outside the three specified categories," he said.
Leader of Opposition in the state Assembly Abdul Mannan of the Congress, senior CPI(M) leader Sujan Chakraborty, as well as Manoj Tigga of the BJP, welcomed the move.
"It is the result of years of struggle. Though we are happy, we are concerned over the process of identification. We want a foolproof system to ensure that only the deserving ones are identified as beneficiaries," Mannan said.
"I think the West Bengal government has woken up late. Our party at the Centre has already introduced it. It is good to see that the state is following in the Centre's footsteps. But we are concerned about the identification process of the beneficiaries," Tigga said.
On January 7, the Union Cabinet had cleared a 10-per cent quota in government jobs and education for the economically weaker sections in the general category, meeting a key demand of the upper castes ahead of the Lok Sabha polls.
Banerjee had then expressed doubt over the Centre's intention in approving the 10 per cent quota, alleging that the NDA was misleading people with polls in mind.