Bihar notifies increase in caste-based quota to 65%
To be sure, the total quantum of reservation in jobs and educational institutions will stand at 75%, after taking into account the 10% quota for economically weaker sections
The Bihar government on Tuesday notified the increase in caste-based quota in education and government jobs, from 50% to 65%, joining only a handful of other states such as Tamil Nadu where the quantum of such reservation exceeds 50%.
The gazette notification came days after governor Rajendra Vishwanath Arlekar, on November 18, gave his assent to two bills – the Bihar Reservation of Vacancies in Posts and Services Amendment Bill and the Bihar Reservation (Admission In Educational Institutions) Amendment Bill, 2023 – that seek to increase the reservation, setting the stage for a potential shake-up of heartland politics that could elevate caste as a key poll plank for next summer’s general elections.
“On analysis of data collected during caste-based survey 2022-23, it is apparent that large section of backward classes, scheduled caste and scheduled tribe need to be promoted for them to catch up to satisfy cherished aim in the Constitution of equality in opportunity and status,” the government said in its gazette notification.
“…members of SC/ST and other backward classes have remained deprived and marginalised for centuries. Though affirmative action has led to improvement in their life to certain extent, the ultimate goal of equality has not yet been achieved. It further strengthens the perception that in addition to measures already in place, the State is required to take further measures to accelerate ultimate object of proportional equality,” it added.
In a statement later, the chief minister’s office said: “Provisions of the hiked quotas in state government jobs and educational institutions should be implemented in letter and spirit for the benefit of those who need it.”
The statement also said that chief minister Nitish Kumar said that “based on the findings of the caste-based survey report, ₹2 lakh will be provided as a one-time financial assistance to the 94 lakh families who earn less than ₹6,000 per month in the state.” Of these families, those who are homeless will be provided a financial assistance of ₹1 lakh each for purchasing land for the construction of their houses, it added.
The two bills raised the quota for Scheduled Castes (SC) from 16% to 20%, Scheduled Tribes (STs) from 1% to 2%, Extremely Backward Castes (EBCs) from 18% to 25% and Other Backward Classes (OBCs) from 15% to 18% to elevate the total quantum of caste-based reservations to 65%.
To be sure, the total quantum of reservation in jobs and educational institutions will stand at 75%, after taking into account the 10% quota for economically weaker sections (EWS).
The bills were passed unanimously in the assembly on November 9, after the government tabled a detailed analysis of the state’s landmark caste survey that showed that marginalised castes were significantly worse off economically and socially than general categories, who were found to be over-represented in government jobs and among the educated sections.
The proposal to hike reservation benefits may well end up before the courts since it breaches the 50% ceiling fixed by the Supreme Court in the 1992 Indra Sawhney (famously known as Mandal Commission) case.
Tamil Nadu, at present, has a law providing for 69% reservation for identified classes. Although a challenge to this law remains pending before the top court, it has been saved so far on the ground that the law received a presidential assent in 1993 and was also put in the Ninth Schedule of the Constitution, which provides only limited scope of judicial review.
A November 2022 judgment by the Supreme Court, ratifying the 10% EWS quota, had also weighed in on the 50% ceiling on reservation. The majority verdict at that time held that the 50% ceiling on reservation is “not inviolable or inflexible”, marking a paradigm shift from the thumb rule that has governed reservations in India, preventing states from enforcing quotas that take the proportion above 50%. The 3-2 view noted that the 50% ceiling applied only to the provisions of the Constitution that existed at that time and cannot extend to the 2019 amendment to any subsequent law.