OBCs and subcategories: Why this has been a hot-button issue for long

OBCs and subcategories: Why this has been a hot-button issue for long

Context- The Minister for Backward Classes Welfare in Andhra Pradesh said on Wednesday that  the state will begin a backward classes census “from November 15, one week here and there”. C Srinivasa Venugopala Krishna said the 139 backward-class communities in the state were unaware of their numerical strength, and the data would help the government serve them better.

(Credits- Hindustan Times)

The publication of the results of the caste survey in Bihar earlier this month had raised the possibility that other states too would announce similar exercises as the country enters a new cycle of elections. The enumeration of castes, as well as the sub-categorisation of the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) in order to ensure equity in the distribution of reservation benefits have been hot-button issues for long.

Other Backward Classes

  • The expression ‘OBC’ was coined to denote backward/marginalised communities and castes that were not Scheduled Castes (SCs) or Scheduled Tribes (STs). It is recognised that social backwardness in India has traditionally been a direct consequence of caste status, and that other types of backwardness have flowed from this initial handicap.
  • Affirmative action for OBCs is mandated by Article 15(4) of the Constitution: “Nothing in this article or in clause (2) of Article 29 [non-discrimination with regard to admission into state educational institutions on grounds of religion, caste, etc] shall prevent the State from making any special provision for the advancement of any socially and educationally backward classes of citizens”.
  • Article 16(4) allows the state to make “any provision for the reservation of appointments or posts in favour of any backward class of citizens which, in the opinion of the State, is not adequately represented in the services under the State”.

‘Backwards’ among OBCs

  • OBCs have been generally identified on the basis of their occupation: cultivation of own land, tenant farming, agriculture labour, cultivation and selling of vegetables, fruits and flowers, cattle-rearing, washing of clothes, carpentry, blacksmith, oilseeds crushing, pottery, stone-cutting, etc.
  • The many castes among the OBCs are at different levels of marginalisation. At first glance, two broad categories within the OBCs emerge: those who own land (such as the Yadavs and Kurmis in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh), and those who do not.
  • The demand for reservation for the “backwards among OBCs” has gained traction as the feeling has grown that a handful of “upper” OBCs have grabbed most of the benefits of the 27% reservation that came with the implementation of the Mandal Commission recommendations more than 30 years ago.

EBCs: the case of Bihar

  • The Bihar caste survey identified 27% of the population as “pichhda” (backward), and 36% as “atyant pichhda” (Extremely Backward Classes, or EBCs). As early as in 1951, the Bihar government had prepared a list of 109 castes, 79 of which were deemed to be “more backward” than the remaining 30. In 1964, Patna High Court struck down the two lists as unconstitutional.
  • In June 1970, the ihar government appointed the Mungeri Lal Commission, which in its report of February 1976 named 128 “backward” communities, 94 of which were identified as “most backward”. The Janata Party government of Chief Minister Karpoori Thakur implemented the recommendations of the Mungeri Lal Commission.
  • In an attempt to build a base for himself beyond his own small Kurmi caste, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has made efforts to reach out to the “backward” OBCs (mainly the artisan castes) to the exclusion of the “upper” OBCs — mainly Yadavs whose loyalties lie with his rival turned ally Lalu Prasad.
  • Like the ati-pichhda backwards (EBCs), a category of “Mahadalits” has been identified among the Scheduled Castes.
  • The OBC reservation pie in Bihar is currently divided among groups that are called Backward Classes or BC-I, BC-II, and OBC Women. This could change as and when the findings of the caste survey are sought to be acted upon.

Two OBC Commissions

FIRST OBC COMMISSION: The panel, headed by Kaka Kalelkar, was constituted by Jawaharlal Nehru’s government on January 29, 1953, and submitted its report on March 30, 1955.

  • To identify socially and educationally backward classes, the commission adopted the following criteria: low social position in the traditional caste hierarchy of Hindu society; lack of general educational advancement among the major section of the caste/ community; inadequate or no representation in government service; and inadequate representation in trade, commerce and industry.
  • The First OBC Commission prepared a list of 2,399 backward castes or communities in the country, categorised 837 of them as “most backward”.
  • The Commission also recommended enumerating castes in the 1961 census, providing 25-40% reservation at different levels of government jobs, and 70% reservation for admission to technical and professional institutions.
  • The report was never discussed in Parliament and never implemented as the government decided that “any all-India list drawn up by the Central Government would have no practical utility”.

SECOND OBC COMMISSION: This was the B P Mandal Commission, which was appointed in 1979 by Morarji Desai’s Janata government, but the implementation of which was announced only in 1990 by the government of V P Singh.

  • The Mandal Commission identified 3,743 castes and communities as OBCs, estimated their population at 52%, and recommended 27% reservation in government jobs and admissions to all government-run scientific, technical, and professional institutions.
  • No subcategories were recognised within the 27% OBC quota, even though one of the members, L R Naik, said in his dissent that OBCs should be split into intermediate backward classes and depressed backward classes.
  • The central government has always implemented the quota treating the entire OBC population as one block after excluding the “creamy layer” of affluent candidates on the basis of criteria fixed after a Supreme Court ruling.

Subcategories in states

  • Over the decades, state governments have applied their own criteria to distribute quota benefits among the various categories of OBCs, a process that began well before the Mandal recommendations were implemented at the Centre.
  • In Andhra Pradesh, OBCs are divided into five subcategories
  • In Karnataka, 207 OBCs castes are divided into five sub-groups.
  • Jharkhand has two groups: Extremely Backward Classes (EBCs) and Backward Classes.
  • West Bengal’s 143 OBC castes are divided into More Backwards and Backwards.
  • In Maharashtra, the 21% OBC reservation is shared by the Special Backward Category (2%) and Other Backward Classes (19%).
  • In Tamil Nadu, the 50% OBC quota is divided among Backward Classes (26.5%), Backward Class Muslims (3.5%), and Most Backward Classes/Denotified Community (20%).
  • In Kerala, 40% OBC reservation is divided into eight subgroups, including Ezhava/Thiyya/Billava (14%), and Muslims (12%).

Subcategorization bid

  • The Union Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment asked the National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC) to examine the matter of subcategorisation of OBCs in the central list. On March 2, 2015, the NCBC, then headed by Justice (retd) V Eswaraiah, suggested that OBCs should be subcategorized into Extremely Backward Classes, More Backward Classes, and Backward Classes.

Conclusion- The recommendations of NCBC were not implemented and, in October 2017, a new commission for sub categorisation of OBCs was constituted under Justice G Rohini. The Rohini Commission submitted its report on July 31 this year, but its contents are not public.

Syllabus- GS-2; Affirmative Action; Fundamental Rights

Source- Indian Express