NEW DELHI: An angry Supreme Court bench on Thursday warned that it could stay the Centre’s decision to fix the income limit of Rs 8 lakh for availing reservation under the Economically Weaker Section (EWS) category if the rationale behind the decision was not disclosed.
A bench headed by justice D Y Chandrachud was piqued because the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment and the Department of Personnel and Training failed to file their affidavits in response to pointed questions framed by the court last week.
“We may stay the government notification fixing Rs 8 lakh criteria for determining the EWS and you can keep filing the affidavits,” the judges warned. The court said it is not entering the policy domain but was only trying to ascertain whether constitutional principles were adhered to while arriving at the Rs 8 lakh benchmark. “Tell us if you want to revisit the criteria or not. If you want us to discharge our duties, then we are ready to do so. We are formulating questions which you need to answer them.”
The bench was hearing petitions challenging the Centre’s notice providing 27% reservation for Other Backward Classes (OBC) and 10% for EWS category in NEET admissions for medical courses.
The court asked Additional Solicitor General K M Nataraj whether a report of the Major Gen (retd) S R Sinho panel constituted in 2010, which recommended measures for the EWS category, was considered before fixing the criteria.
Natarajan said the panel’s report was one of the elements for determining the criteria. “Fixing of criteria of Rs 8 lakh is a pure policy matter and the court should not interfere with it. It was decided after proper application of mind,” he said. Natarajan also said that the draft of the affidavit by concerned departments is ready and they will be filing it in a day or two.
The bench pointed out that for determining creamy layer in the OBC category, the limit was fixed as Rs 8 lakh annual income. Those above the threshold were excluded from reservation benefits. “Here, for the EWS category, the limit is the same Rs 8 lakh annual income but it was for inclusion in the reservation benefits,” the bench observed.
“You cannot just pick Rs 8 lakh out of the thin air and fix it as a criteria. There has to be some basis, some study. Tell us whether any demographic study or data was taken into account in fixing the limit. How do you arrive at this exact figure? Can the Supreme Court strike down the criteria, if no study was undertaken?” Also, since the benchmarking for the creamy layer in OBC and EWS is the same, can it be treated as arbitrary, the bench wondered.
Among the questions the court wanted answered were (a) whether rural and urban purchasing power was accounted for? (b) On what basis the asset exception was arrived at? (c) Since the explanation in the 103rd Constitution amendment says the EWS critera will be notified by the state governments, how can the Centre notify a uniform benchmark for the whole country? The court asked the two ministries to file their replies by October 28.(THE NEW INDIAN EXPRESS)