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Mainstream, Vol XLV No 21

OBC Quota : Letter to Justice Sachar

Monday 14 May 2007, by Syed Shahabuddin

Dear Justice Rajindar Sachar,

I have seen your article on the OBC question in The Times of India and subsequently in Mainstream and other papers.

Because of its wide circulation, I beg your leave to point out a basic flaw in your argument. In case of SCs/STs which are constitutionally recognised Backward Classes, their reservation quota no doubt matches their population, State or national. But, the OBCs, which is only a legal construct, do not fall in the same category. This is the reason why the Supreme Court has permitted categorisation of OBCs by level of backwardness but barred it in the case of SCs/STs.

The OBCs are a social conglomerate of castes, classes or groups which vary in population and level of backwardness from group to group, and State to State. It is evident that all constituents of OBCs cannot enjoy the same weightage of 100 per cent in relation to the population. The weightage for each group shall depend on its population and its level of backwardness. This implies that without a headcount of each group and without ascertaining its level of backwardness with respect to selected parameters, there can be no scientific determination of the sub-quota for any group.

The sum total of these sub-quotas will give the OBC quota. Thus, with variation in the number of OBCs, their population and their level of backwardness, there cannot be a uniform OBC quota for all States of the country. You argue that since all NSSO surveys have produced an estimate of OBC population above 27 per cent, the national quota for OBCs of 27 per cent proposed by Mandal must be accepted. I am sure that you are aware of the circumstances in which the Mandal Commission proposed and agreed to the quota of 27 per cent for the OBCs. This was an ad hoc decision based on the difference between the 50 per cent ceiling, unfortunately and illogically imposed by the Supreme Court, and 22.5 per cent quota constitutionally assigned for the SCs/STs.

As for the creamy layer, the benefit of reservation must reduce social disparities, not widen them. Therefore, the concept should be extended to all Backward Classes including the SCs/STs. The present flaw is due to the Supreme Court allowing each State to have its own policy. In my view, the benefit of reservation across the board should go only to the candidates/applicants coming from backward families in eligible groups and the backwardness of their family can be readily seen if the family income is lower than the State average.

I am glad that the Supreme Court has raised some questions and may later lay down a scientific basis for ascertaining the populations and backwardness levels of the groups which claim OBC status and also formulate a methodology for determining their sub-quotas and the overall OBC quota for each State and for the country.

To sum up, I feel that the Supreme Court is on the right track in trying to work out a rational and scientific basis for translation of backwardness into reservation quotas as well as on the question of the creamy layer.
We should all rise above our class identity and ideological affiliation and welcome the move which has not come a day too soon.

With respectful regards.

Your sincerely,
Syed Shahabuddin
May 7, 2007

The author, a retired IFS officer and an erstwhile Member of Parliament, is the President of the All-India Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat and the Convener of the Babri Masjid Movement Coordination Committee.

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