Jaipur: In a bid to end the Gujjar agitation in Rajasthan, the state assembly on Wednesday passed a Bill extending 5% reservation to five castes –including Gujjars – in government jobs and educational institutes.
The new Bill is an amendment to Vasundhara Raje government’s Rajasthan Backward Classes (Reservation of Seats in Educational Institutions in the State and of Appointments and Posts in Services under the State) Act, 2017 which provided 1% reservation to the more backward classes (MBC) – Banjara, Gadiya-Lohar, Gujjar, Raika and Gadariya.
The Congress’s Bill cited the Narendra Modi government’s recent decision to eliminate the 50%-ceiling in order to provide 10% reservation to economically weaker sections (EWS) in the general category.
“Recently, the parliament has amended the constitution to exceed the limit of 50% laid down by the Indra Sawhney case having regard to the compelling circumstances in which economically weaker sections of the society are languishing. The more backward classes identified in the aforesaid Act are extremely backward classes and the state government is satisfied that there exist more compelling circumstances which warrant urgent upliftment of these classes by providing 5% reservation both in educational institutions and in appointment and post under the state.”
The Bill also held the proportion of backward classes to the total population of the state as a relevant factor in determining the extent of the reservation.
“When the Central government provided reservation to backward classes in the year of 1993, the proportion of the population of backward classes at national level was about 52% and the reservation provided was 27%. Since the population of backward classes in the state of Rajasthan is estimated by the State Backward Classes Commission to be about 52%, therefore, looking to the volume of population, the percentage of reservation for backward classes needs to be increased,” reads the statement of objects and reasons of the Bill.
While the Bill talks about the state’s responsibility to promote the educational and economic interests of the weaker sections of the society under Article 46 of the constitution, its constitutional validity remains doubtful as similar bills have been successfully challenged in high courts and subsequently struck down.
Notably, the Congress government has relied on the reports of the State Backward Classes Commission and the high-power committee headed by Justice Sunil Kumar Garg which recommended a quota of 5% to five castes including the Gujjar community. Same reports were used by the previous Raje government during the 2017 Bill with similar reservation provisions, but that couldn’t help them pull off the 50% limit.
The leader of opposition in the state, Gulab Chand Kataria argued in the assembly that the Bill wouldn’t sustain until it is was included in the Ninth Schedule. “We have been trying to provide 5% reservation to these five castes since 2008 but it was always struck down by the high court. The amendment Bill offers no solution. It is powerless until included in the Ninth Schedule of the constitution.”
An amendment of the constitution can be initiated only by the introduction of a bill in either house of the parliament – and not in the state legislatures – as laid down in Article 368.
Putting the ball in Modi government’s court, deputy chief minister Sachin Pilot – who belongs to the Gujjar community – said: “The 50% limit has been exceeded in Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra too. We would request the Union government to include this Bill in the Ninth Schedule of the constitution as it did with the 10% EWS quota.”
The Ninth Schedule was added to the constitution by the first amendment in 1951 to protect the Acts under it from being challenged in courts on the ground of violation of fundamental rights.
However, in 2007, the Supreme Court ruled that the laws included in the Ninth Schedule after the Kesavananda Bharati judgement (April 24, 1973) are now open to judicial scrutiny.
Gujjar leader Kirori Singh Bainsla has said that the agitation would continue until the community is satisfied with the provisions in the Bill. “Will first study the Bill before calling off the agitation,” he said.
If the Bill somehow sustains legal scrutiny, the demand for reservation from other communities can be expected.
“We are told that the 10% quota provided for the EWS in the general category would include our Rajput community but still there is a lot of confusion over it. Reservation was a significant demand while forming Karni Sena and it’s still so, but whether we would also demand a similar quota as the Gurjar community will depend on the sustainability of exceeding the 50% ceiling,” Lokendra Singh Kalvi, leader of the Karni Sena, a Rajput caste organisation involved in several violent activities told The Wire.