To bring historically marginalised communities at par with other communities, the Constitution of India provides for affirmative action in the form of reservation in educational institutions and government jobs. Before 2019, reservation was provided mainly on the basis of social and educational backwardness. It was given to three types of categories: Scheduled Castes (SC), Scheduled Tribes (ST), and Other Backward Classes (OBC). The percentage of seats reserved for these categories, respectively, are 15%, 7.5%, & 27%. After the 103rd Constitutional Amendment in January 2019, economic backwardness is also considered as criteria for reservation.
The Constitution 124th Amendment Bill, now the 103rd Amendment Act, provides 10% reservation in jobs and education to the general category poor. Criteria for issuance of Economically Weaker Section (EWS) certificate clearly says that persons who are not covered under the exiting scheme of reservations for SC, ST, and OBC categories, and whose family has gross annual income below Rs 8 lakh, are to be identified as EWS for the benefit of reservation. Family income includes income from all sources, such as salary, agriculture, business, profession, etc, for the financial year prior to the year of application. Also, persons whose family owns or possesses any of the following assets shall be excluded from being identified as EWS, irrespective of the family income:
i – 5 acres of agricultural land & above.
ii – Residential flat of 1000 sq ft & above .
iii – Residential plot of 100 sq yards & above in notified municipalities.
iv – Residential plot of 200 sq yards & above in areas other than the notified municipalities.
Candidates are required to produce certificates from designated officials attesting to these eligibility criteria. In J&K, it is for the tehsildar to attest the income certificates.
The income threshold of Rs 8 lakh per annum has been widely questioned. The National Sample Survey (NSS) of 2011-12 shows that the annual per capita expenditure for 99% of households falls under this threshold, even when inflation is taken into account. Similarly, as per the Indian Human Development Survey (IHDS), the annual threshold income of 98% of households is less than Rs 8 lakh per year. Even if we apply all the other criteria, the quota would still cover over 95% of the households. So who are we excluding? Almost no one.
When the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act 2019 was brought to reorganise the state into two separate Union Territories, the J&K Reservation Act 2004, along with several other acts previously working under the state, were retained. The J&K Reservation Act 2004 provides for declaring certain areas as socially & educationally backward, to the residents of which a Resident of Backward Area (RBA) certificate is given. The bone of contention is that there are several people living in socially & educationally backward areas which are recognised only at UT level and not at Central level. So, the RBA certificate is useless for admission in central educational institutes and central government jobs. Even if a person satisfies all the criteria of EWS but has an RBA certificate, he or she will not get EWS category reservation.
Apart from this legal and administrative hurdle, the identification criteria do not suit the social reality that exists in Kashmir. People in J&K prefer to build their houses with huge plinth area, normally larger than 1000 sq ft, and their residential plots are not limited to 100 or 200 sq yards. So, even if a family belongs to below poverty line with annual income of, say, fifty thousand to one lakh, they will not be provided EWS certificate on the basis of central government’s guidelines.
Recently, SKIMS Soura invited applications for admission in BSc Nursing course and Kashmir University invited applications for several PG courses but there was no reservation mentioned for EWS candidates.
I have certain suggestions that the authorities should ponder on:
1- Income threshold should be reduced to Rs 1 lakh to ensure that only the deserving poor avail the benefit of reservation.
2- The criteria of size of home and residential plot should not be uniformly applied across the country. Variations must be made to suit the social reality of different regions in India.
3- In a country like India there are only 2% public sector jobs. The government should come with guidelines that extend reservation to the private sector as well.
4- The J&K Govt should address the issue of candidates who fulfil the criteria of EWS but are excluded due to being residents of an area declared socially & educationally backward.
—The writer is an MA student at Department of Politics & Governance, Central University of Kashmir. email@example.com