Orphans to get OBC benefits? Many stumbling blocks in the way
The National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC) has come up with an innovative recommendation, but one whose efficacy will have to go through several stages of scrutiny.
The commission has proposed that orphaned children should be included in the Central list of Other Backward Classes, making them eligible for reservation at par with all castes in the list.
It has been proposed for children who were orphaned before reaching the age of 10, have no guardians at all and are admitted to either government or government-aided orphanages and schools.
The commission recently cleared the proposal and sent it to the Ministry of Social Justice. The government will now consider the proposal and examine the possibility of implementing it.
If this does happen, it will be a landmark change in the country's reservation policy, although the provision does already exist in a few states. Tamil Nadu, Telangana and Rajasthan have reportedly been giving reservation to orphaned children under the state OBC list for several years now.
Putting numbers in perspective
To put the problem in perspective, there are about 20 million orphans in India, according to a study done by SOS Children's Village, an NGO, in 2011. The government maintains no such data.
Ironically, the government knows how many OBCs are there in the country, but it won't tell you. The caste-related data of Census 2011 is yet to be made public, in spite of demands from several quarters for releasing it.
Some OBC politicians estimate it to be at least 50% of the total population of the country. That puts it at least 600 million.
The proposal itself was not approved by the NCBC unanimously, as some members disagreed with the proposal. A member of the commission, Dr Shakeel-Uz-Zaman Ansari, told Catch that he submitted a note of dissent because he feels more needs to be done for this idea to actually see the light of the day.
He explained that, traditionally, the NCBC includes only those castes in the Central list that have already been made a part of the lists existing in all states. Castes are often refused entry into the Central list on the grounds that they are not a part of states' lists.
For fair play, this rule should apply to any category before its inclusion in the Central list, Ansari said, indicating that this will become a stumbling block for orphans because only three states recognise them as OBCs.
Apart from this, there is another stumbling block - the sustained opposition to the inclusion of any category in OBC lists anywhere by OBC activists and political parties who represent OBCs.
Rashtriya Janata Dal spokesperson Manoj Jha told Catch that this is a desirable proposal from the perspective of compassionate justice, but it is not in consonance with established constitutional principles. He said such a move will not be in accordance with the idea of who is an OBC, as laid out in Articles 15 and 16, which provide the basis of reservations in the country, and Article 340, which the NCBC derives its mandate from. Jha said this was a knee-jerk reaction to a burning problem, and the government must initiate separate measures for ensuring the welfare of orphans.
The proposal has found criticism even in the government camp. BJP MP Hukmdev Narayan Yadav also told Catch that this proposal was not correct, because orphans are not covered by the constitutional definition of social and educational backwardness.
He further said that already, OBCs did not have adequate reservation commensurate with their population, unlike Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, and bringing in more categories under the OBC list will further shorten the net for existing OBCs. Yadav urged the government and the judiciary to increase the 27% limit for OBCs by lifting the Supreme Court-enforced cap of 50% on quotas.
The NCBC had earlier mooted a similar proposal for quotas for transgenders, by including them in the OBC list.
The move saw similar opposition, and the Union government was eventually forced to drop the idea. The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill introduced in the Lok Sabha in August made no mention of reservation for transgenders.
If this is any indication of the future of the latest proposal, the government and the NCBC will have to either brace themselves up for a sustained campaign, or let go of the idea.
Edited by Shreyas Sharma
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