The Centre agreed to “revisit” the criteria for the “economically backward among forwards” to get reservation benefits in government jobs and educational institutions after facing a barrage of questions from the Supreme Court over fixing an annual income limit of Rs 8 lakh for determining economically weaker sections (EWS).
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing before a bench of Justices DY Chandrachud, Surya Kant, and Vikram Nath, said he had been instructed to make a statement before the bench that the government has decided to revisit the criteria, adding that a committee will be formed to investigate the issue and requesting four weeks to make a final decision.
The decision to re-examine the criteria for determining EWS has the immediate consequence that the PG admissions counselling process will have to be postponed – at least for the month-long duration requested by the Centre – until a judgement on EWS eligibility is made. “According to the Solicitor General, this exercise will take four weeks to complete, and until it is completed, the date for counselling will be postponed in light of the guarantee that was provided at an earlier stage of the proceedings. In light of the foregoing, the hearing date for the proceedings will be set for January 6, 2022 “, said the bench.
The court was hearing a series of petitions filed by MBBS doctors challenging the Centre’s decision to adopt a 27 percent reservation for OBCs and a 10% reservation for EWS in admission to PG courses in medical institutes under the All India Quota system. Though the lawsuit is about PG medical admissions, it will have an impact on the admissions process in all government-run institutions as well as government job recruiting.
When the case was heard in court in October, the apex court expressed displeasure with the Centre for failing to adequately explain the basis for setting an income limit of Rs 8 lakh for granting EWS reservation and ordered it to file an affidavit disclosing whether any exercise was conducted and what the rationale behind the decision was. The court also questioned the country’s standard income criterion, suggesting that cost of living or per capita income be taken into account. The Centre has cited the Sinho commission’s suggestions for determining the income ceiling and said that considering differentiated criteria would be difficult or impractical given the inequalities between urban and rural areas.