The four questions on OBC sub-categorisation that expose BJP's intentions
The Union government's announcement that it has approved setting up a commission to examine the sub-categorisation of Other Backward Classes (OBCs) was spectacular. It has led to conclusions that this will lead to further empowerment of weaker castes within the large OBC fold.
However, the move is fraught with shortcomings that leave a big question mark on the government's intent.
Finance minister Arun Jaitley announced on 23 August that the intent was to ensure a “more equitable distribution amongst the OBCs themselves” so that those who get left behind in every state are able to get due benefits. The commission will be set up under Article 340 of the Indian Constitution, the same article under which the historic Mandal Commission was also set up in 1979.
That this sub-categorisation is not Prime Minister Narendra Modi government's original idea was admitted by Jaitley. This had long been recommended by the now defunct National Commission for Backward Classes, as well as a Parliamentary committee, he said.
Catch spoke to former NCBC member, Dr Shakeel-uz-Zaman Ansari, to understand this recommendation better. Ansari said that this announcement has raised several questions.
1. The data on castes from the Socio-Economic and Caste Census of 2011 is yet to be released. In the absence of that data, what will be basis of this sub-categorisation? OBC leaders and activists have been questioning the Narendra Modi government since 2014 that why hasn't it released the caste numbers. Ansari said the data wasn't shared even with the former NCBC. Why is it that the government is hiding this data and without releasing it how will it prepare sub-categories?
2. NCBC's report that is the basis of the Union cabinet's recommendation was submitted in March 2015, nearly two and a half years ago. Ansari asked why was the government sitting on it for such a long time? He also noted that had the government replied too the NCBC soon after receiving the report, the commission would have already begun the process of identifying how to go about it. Instead, the commission itself has been dissolved now. The government wants to set up a new commission but it couldn't succeed in getting its own bill passed in the Rajya Sabha, Ansari alleged.
3. Ansari also informed that revision of the creamy layer limit was due in 2014, but the Modi government has delayed it by over three years. Not just that, the latest revision is also far short of what the NCBC had recommended. While the limit has now been raised to Rs 8 lakh from Rs 6 lakh, Ansari said the commission had recommended raising the limit to Rs 12 lakh. In fact, a Parliamentary committee had recommended raising the limit to Rs 20 lakh, he informed. Since then, Ansari noted, the Sixth Pay Commission has been implemented, the Seventh has been approved and inflation has gone up significantly, indicating that the latest revision is far short of what is needed presently.
4. Both these decisions, Ansari said, have left the OBCs feeling despondent and cheated. He said this decision was certainly not for the poor, as it is being made out to be. It won't benefit even those OBCs who manage to earn a bit of a salary. He noted that Grade 4 jobs in the public sector in any case have no quota and large number of relatively better-off OBCs earning over Rs 8 lakh will not be eligible. Former NCBC Chairman Justice V Eswaraiah had also written to the government earlier that the 27% vacancies reserved for OBCs in government jobs have not been filled up because of the “elimination of OBCs having income above the prescribed income limit”.