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A poster of the Schedule Tribes Demand Committee Manipur during an agitation

While Many Are Demanding ST Status, Supreme Court Judges Call for Revisit of Reservation Policy as India Completes 75 Years of Independence

While a number of communities who consider themselves marginalised, discriminated, backward, under-previledged and unprotected, and deprieved of constitutional safeguards are demanding either to be included in the lists of the Scheduled Castes or Scheduled Tribes of India, the Supreme Court on November 7, 2022 stated that there is a need to revisit the reservation policy at the end of 75 years of India’s independence.

The main reason for which the majority of the communities are demanding inclusion either in the lists of the Scheduled Castes of Scheduled Tribes of India is for the opportunity of reservation in government employment and admission in educational institutions for want of a level playing field, besides other reasons.

In the context of Manipur too, amongst Meiteis, Kakching who are highly educated and good in agriculture later became Scheduled Caste and now they get more job opportuities in all India civil services.

Notably, the Scheduled Tribe Demand Committee, Manipur (STDCM) in the beginning of their demand from November 30, 2012 stressed the narrative in public for the need of reservation of jobs for the Meiteis in government employment by citing various examples that most of the key posts of the Manipur government are occupied by other communities of the state through Scheduled Tribes quota thereby Meiteis are marginlised in the ranks and files of state civil secretariat and police services.

Since a number of civil society organisations and members of the intellegentia of Manipur came out against the demand of STDCM for inclusion of Meiteis in the Scheduled Tribes list of India, the STDCM has now revised the reason for their demand for inclusion of Meiteis in the list of Scheduled Tribes of India as a means to protect the land from others, which they didn’t mention it in the beginning.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court of India on November 7, 2022 upheld the constitutional validity of the 103rd Constitutional Amendment 2019, which provides for 10% reservation to the economically weaker sections (EWS), excluding Other Backward Classes, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes who already have reservation in higher education institutions and government jobs.

Although the Supreme Court of Inida upheld the constitutional validity of 10 percent reservation for Economically Weaker Section of the society, three judges on the Constitution Bench said the policy of reservation in education and employment cannot continue for an indefinite period.

Justice P.B. Pardiwala, who was with the majority which upheld EWS quota, said real solution lies in eliminating causes that have led to the social, educational and economic backwardness of the weaker sections of the community

Three judges on the Constitution Bench, which gave a split decision of both the majority and minority opinions, agreed the policy of reservation in education and employment cannot continue for an indefinite period.

Two of the Supreme Court judges upheld the 10% quota for Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) made observations in their judgements regarding the need for a time-limit for reservations.

Justice Bela M Trivedi, who voted against the decision, as parting comments in her judgement, stated that there is a need to revisit the system of reservation after 75 years of independence.

“I have said what was envisioned by the framers of the Constitution and what was proposed by the Constitution Bench in 1985 and what was sought to be achieved on the completion of 50 years of the advent of the Constitution that the policy of reservation must have a time span has still not been achieved even at this stage, that is the completion of 75 years of our independence”, Justice Trivedi stated.

“It cannot be gainsaid that the age old caste system of India was responsible for the origination of the reservation system in the country. It was introduced to address the historic injustice faced by persons belonging to SC, ST, and other backward classes to provide them a level playing field. However, at the end of 75 years of independence, we need to revisit the system of reservation in the larger interests of the society as a step forward towards transformative constitutionalism”, Justice Trivedi stated.

Justice Trivedi referred to Article 334 of the Constitution of India which envisaged a time limit for the reservation of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in the Parliament and State Legislatures, which is being extended from time to time, would cease 80 years after from the commencement of the Constitution. The present time line for the quota for SC/STs in legislatures is 2030.

The representation for Anglo-Indian communities in the Parliament and the State Legislative Assemblies has already ceased after the 104th Constitution Amendment from January 25, 2020.

“Therefore, a similar time limit, if prescribed, for the special provisions in respect of the reservations and representations provided in Article 15 and Article 16 of the Constitution, it could be a way forward leading to an egalitarian, casteless and classless society,” Justice Trivedi observed.

Though not expressly said, Justice Trivedi’s view on stopping quota under Articles 15 and 16 would also encompass EWS reservation.

Morover, Justice JB Pardiwala concurring with the majority view upholding the EWS quota, said that reservation cannot go on for an indefinite period so as to become a “vested interest”.

“Reservation is not an end, but a means to secure social end economic justice. Reservation cannot be allowed to become a vested interest. The real solution lies in eliminating the causes that have led to the social and educational backwardness of the weaker sections of the community. This exercise of eliminating the causes started immediately after the independence that is almost 7 decades back and still continues. The long standing development and the spread of education have resulted in tapering the gap between the classes to a considerable extent”, Justice Pardiwala stated.

Large percentages of Backward Class members attained acceptable standards of education and employment. They should be removed from the backward classes so that attention could be paid toward those classes who are genuinely in need of help. Therefore, the method of identification and the ways of determination of backward classes need to be reviewed. It is also necessary to ascertain if the criteria for determining backwardness is relevant in the present times.

“It is very much necessary to take into review the method of identification and the ways of determination of Backward Classes, and also, ascertain whether the criteria adopted or applied for the classification of Backward is relevant for today’s conditions,” Justice Pardiwala said.

Justice Pardiwala quoted Dr.BR Ambedkar to state that the idea was to bring social harmony by introducing reservation for only ten years. However, it has continued past 7 decades.

“Reservation should not continue for an indefinite period of time so as to become a vested interest”, Justice Pardiwala stated.

In his minority view on the Constitution Bench, Justice S. Ravindra Bhat reminded Baba Saheb Ambedkar’s observations that reservations should be seen as temporary and exceptional “or else they would eat up the rule of equality”.

What is very significant in the Supreme Court Constitution Bench judgement on November 7, 2022 uphoding the Constitutional validity of 10% reservation to the economically weaker sections (EWS), excluding Other Backward Classes, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes is the statement made by the Judges that Reservation Policy can’t continue indefinitely, should be revisited for “Casteless Classless Society and Reservation Policy should have a time limit.

If India’s Reservation Policy comes to an end as stated by Supreme Court Judges, it will give a shock to those vested interests who want reservation policy to continue for an indefinite or extended period of time.

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