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With Lok Sabha elections a few months away, the Narendra Modi government today (Monday, Jan 7) decided to amend the Constitution to provide for 10 per cent reservation for ‘economically backward’ upper castes in direct recruitment in government services and admission to higher educational institutions.

Media reports citing sources said the government aims to introduce the legislation tomorrow, the last day of the winter session of Parliament.

Though similar suggestions have been made by political leaders like Mayawati and Ramdas Athavale in the past, this is the first substantial move to take legislative route to provide for this change.

Earlier, in the 1990s, the Supreme Court struck down a similar attempt to provide for 10 per cent reservation to poor or economically backward among other sections during the Narasimha Rao government’s tenure to offset political backlash against the implementation of Mandal Commission recommendations.

“Narasimha Rao government’s attempt was thrown out as it violated the basic structure of 50 per cent ceiling,” confided a highly placed source revealing that “this time this basic structure is changed to provide for reservation up to 60 per cent”.

“Additionally, a new criterion of economically weaker section as eligible for reservation will be provided for through the Constitution Amendment,” a source told The Indian Express, to explain how the Government intends to keep its move immune from legal challenges.

The move will require amending Article 16 of the Constitution to provide for reservation for economically weaker sections.

Unlike the reservation for SC/ST/OBCs, caste is not going to be a criterion for eligibility to the reservation under this new provision. In fact, sources revealed that the government’s move plan to delineate the economically weaker section (EWS) for avoiding confusion.

Sources, in this backdrop, revealed that the EWS category will be defined as families with income (includes agricultural income as well as from profession) below Rs 8 lakh per annum, possessing agricultural land below five acre and residential house below 1,000 square feet. As for urban areas, those with residential plot below 100 yards in notified municipality or residential plot below 200 yards in the non-notified municipal area.

The move by the centre appears as an attempt by the BJP-led government to address grievances among the upper castes ahead of the crucial 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

The Modi government faced upper caste backlash when, following protests by Dalits, it brought legislation in last monsoon session to nullify Supreme Court order to check apprehensions of misuse of SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act.

The upper caste communities, in turn, voiced their protest over Government’s alacrity in addressing the concerns of Dalit communities of the issue. Senior BJP leaders felt that the BJP faced hostile Upper Castes in the recently concluded assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh.

Dalit leader and junior social justice minister Ramdas Athawale had earlier supposed reservation for upper castes, arguing that since quotas could not be ended, parliament should give 25 per cent reservation to the upper castes, said a report in The Hindustan Times (HT).

“I welcome wholeheartedly reservation given to economically… Now the ceiling will be raised from 50 to 60 per cent… Parliament is very much empowered to raise this ceiling,” BJP MP and Udit Raj was quoted by HT as saying.

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