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Sub-Categorisation of Other Backward Classes

Context:  The Union Government has no records of office expenditure incurred for the Justice G. Rohini Commission for the sub-categorisation of Other Backward Classes (OBC).

Backward Classes in India

  • The Backward Classes suffer from disadvantages and disabilities which are age-old and which derive their sanction mainly from the caste system.
  • Low status, poverty and illiteracy are social problems, which they have inherited due to their ascribed status of being born in a low caste or tribe.
  • The backward classes comprise roughly one-third of the total population in India. They are made up of:
    • The Scheduled Tribes (adivasis)
    •  The Scheduled Castes (the Harijans)
    • The Other Backward Classes
  • The characteristics of backwardness are mentioned in different articles of the Indian Constitution:
    •  Article 15 (4) speaks of social and educational backwardness.
    • In Article 16 (4), mention is made of backward classes and their inadequate representation in services.
    • Article 23 speaks of forced labour.
    • Article 46 refers to weaker section of the people in which the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes are included.

Who are Other Backward Classes (OBCs)?

  • Other Backward Classes (OBCs) comprise the ‘non-untouchable’, lower and intermediary castes who were traditionally engaged in agriculture, animal husbandry and handicrafts services.
  • The OBCs are defined negatively, by what they are not. They are neither part of the ‘forward’ castes at the upper end of the status spectrum, nor of the Dalits at the lower end.
  • As per the Indian Constitution, they are socially and educationally backward classes.
  • Article 340 gives the President the power to constitute a committee to investigate the conditions of backward classes in India and recommend measures for their welfare, upliftment, and development.

Reservations for the OBCs

  • Protective Discrimination: The constitution makers made special provisions for the upliftment of the backward classes in the form of protective discrimination. The policy of reservation is an instance of protective discrimination.
  • First Backward Classes Commission (1953): The Government under Jawaharlal Nehru appointed a commission under article 340 to identify backward classes other than the SCs and STs at the national level.  It was headed by Kaka Kalelkar.
    • The Commission submitted its report in 1956 and recommended that caste is an important measure of backwardness.
    • The recommendations were rejected by the Union government as they failed to apply more objective criteria such as income and literacy.
  • Second Backward Classes Commission (1978):  It was appointed by the Janta Party Government in 1978 under Article 340.
    • This Commission known as Mandal Commission submitted its report in 1982.
    •  It identified 3943 castes as OBC and recommended 27% reservation in government and semi-government jobs and admission to educational institutions.
    • In 1990, the Union Government headed by V.P. Singh issued an office memorandum extending 27% reservation to the OBCs on the lines recommended by the Mandal Commission.
    • The memorandum provided reservation for Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBCs) of 27 % of the vacancies filled by direct recruitment in civil posts and services under the Union Government, PSU’s and Financial Institutions.
    • A number of writ petitions were filed in the Supreme Court questioning the said Memorandum along with applications for staying the operation of the Memorandum.
  • Issue of Creamy Layer:  The Supreme Court examined this issue and gave a landmark judgment in Indra Sawhney vs Union of India Case (1992).
    • The SC permitted the Union Government to reserve 27% of the jobs for the OBCs subject to the exclusion of the ‘creamy layer’ among the OBCs.
      • A person with an annual income of ₹8 lakh and above is classified as “creamy layer” and cannot get the reservation benefits.

National Commission for Backward Classes

  • It is a body set up under the National Commission for Backward Classes Act, 1993.
  • 102nd Constitution Amendment Act, 2018 provides constitutional status to the National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC).
  • It has the authority to examine complaints and welfare measures regarding socially and educationally backward classes.
  • Previously NCBC was a statutory body under the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment.

What is Sub-categorisation of OBCs?

  • Mandate: The idea is to create sub-categories within the larger group of OBCs for the purpose of reservation.
  • Reservation: OBCs are granted 27% reservation in jobs and education under the central government which has been a legal debate.
  • Issue with Reservation: It has been perceived that only a few affluent communities among the over 2,600 included in the Central List of OBCs have secured a major part of the 27% reservation.
  • Need for Sub-categorisation: The argument for creating sub-categories within OBCs is that it would ensure “equitable distribution” of representation among all OBC communities.
  • Rohini Commission: The Commission was formed in 2017 to sub-categorise nearly 3,000 OBC caste groups and recommend a quota break-up for them.
    • It was initially given 12 weeks to submit a report in this regard but has so far received 14 extensions.
Parity Check
Parity Check

Terms of Reference of Rohini Commission

  • To investigate the extent of inequitable distribution of reservation benefits among castes or communities in the broad category of OBCs.
  • To develop the mechanism, criteria, norms and parameters for sub-categorisation within such OBCs using a scientific approach.
  • To begin the process of identifying and classifying the respective castes, communities, sub-castes in the Central List of OBCs.
  • To review the various entries in the Central List of OBCs and recommend changes to any repetitions, ambiguities, inconsistencies, or spelling or transcription errors.

Preliminary Findings of Rohini Commission

The Commission analysed the data of 1.3 lakh central jobs given under OBC quota over the preceding five years and OBC admissions to central higher education institutions (including universities, IITs, NITs, IIMs and AIIMS).  The findings were:

  • 97% of all jobs and educational seats have gone to just 25% of all sub-castes classified as OBCs.
  • 95% of these jobs and seats have gone to just 10 OBC communities.
  • 983 OBC communities (37% of the total) have zero representation in jobs and educational institutions.
  • 994 OBC sub-castes have a total representation of only 2.68% in recruitment and admissions.
Preliminary Findings of Rohini Commission
Preliminary Findings of Rohini Commission

Challenges before Rohini Commission

  • Lack of Data: The absence of data for the population of various communities to compare with their representation in jobs and admissions.
  • Lack of Survey: The Commission had written to the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment in 2018 to request an appropriate Budget provision for a proposed all-India survey to estimate the caste-wise population of OBCs.
  • Reluctance of Government: In 2018, the Home Ministry had announced that in Census 2021, data of OBCs will also be collected, but since then the government has been silent on this.

Way Forward

  • It is impossible to conduct an accurate sub-categorisation of Other Backward Classes groups without some form of a caste census.
  • The Rohini Commission must incorporate the data from the last Socio-Economic Caste Census (SECC) conducted in 2011.
  • The sub-categorisation of OBCs can ensure the maximum reservation going to caste groups that have been historically crowded out and minimum reservation for the dominant caste groups.

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