Why the Chinnappa Reddy Commission Considered Karnataka Muslims Backward as a Whole

The Karnataka government's decision to scrap reservations for Muslims in the OBC category is based either on selective reading of the Third Backward Class Commission report, or a strategy to deprive the community of constitutional benefits.

On April 13, the Solicitor General of India sought to mislead the Supreme Court bench enquiring into the Karnataka government’s decision to scrap reservations to Muslims under the Other Backward Classes (OBC) category.

The Solicitor General, who represented the government of Karnataka, claimed at the hearing that the third Backward Class Commission headed by Justice O. Chinnappa Reddy had considered Muslims as only educationally backward, not socially backward. He offered this statement as the basis on which the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in Karnataka moved Muslims from the OBC category to the Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) of society category. 

At the same hearing, Mukul Rohatgi, a former Advocate General of the Narendra Modi government at the Centre, also attempted to mislead the Supreme Court bench. Rohtagi, who represented petitioners from Karnataka’s Vokkaliga and Lingayat communities, stated that the reservation given to Muslims in Karnataka was based on religion, which is unconstitutional.

Fortunately, Justice. B.V. Nagarathna, one of the two judges hearing the case, intervened immediately and corrected the government counsel, stating that the Justice Chinnappa Reddy Commission had considered Muslims both educationally and socially backward. 

Senior counsel Kapil Sibal, who appeared for the Muslim petitioners, also objected to the Solicitor General’s false contention, while lead judge Justice K.M. Joseph questioned the hurry and impropriety of the Karnataka government in implementing the policy. The court will next hear the matter on April 18.

The entire new reservation formula declared by the Basavaraj Bommai-led Karnataka government just before the assembly election slated for May 10 is seriously flawed. But the decision to scrap the 4% reservation for Muslims under the 2-b quota of the OBC category and distribute it among the categories comprising Vokkaligas and the Lingayats is not only the worst of all, but also communal in nature. 

Karnataka CM Basavaraj Bommai. Photo: PTI

For one thing, the decision suffers from procedural impropriety, since the state’s Permanent Backward Class Commission had made no such recommendation based on any empirical study. 

The decision also suffers from illegality and irrationality since it moved, without the support of the law, a group enjoying OBC reservation to the EWS category, which is reserved exclusively for those who are economically weaker and do not suffer social backwardness. 

While the Supreme Court looks deeply into these factors, a clear understanding of what the comprehensive report of the Third Backward Class Commission, headed by Retired Justice Chinnappa Reddy, really said about the backwardness of the Muslims would cast better light on the plight of the community and the ploys of the government.

After a thorough scientific study based on empirical data, the commission had declared Muslims as “socially and educationally backward”. It had also declared that the economic plight of the Muslims is close to that of the scheduled castes and in many educational parameters, Muslims fare worse than the scheduled castes. This statement was made in 1990, some 16 years before the Sachar Committee report of 2006, which made the same observation.

This is contrary to the statements made on April 13 by the Solicitor General of India and a former Advocate General of India. The Solicitor General and the Advocate General occupy two of the highest legal offices in the country. Their jobs are to help the Supreme Court deliver justice, not mislead it. That they attempted to mislead  the Supreme Court bench hearing the matter suggests that the highest legal offices of the country are more interested in politics than in justice.

Also read: Denying OBC Reservation to Muslims Is Unconstitutional and Communal

Working of the commission 

Before getting into the salient findings and recommendations of the Justice Chinnappa Reddy Commission report of 1990,  a little background on both the chair and the commission is necessary.

Justice Chinnappa Reddy, a constitutionalist  judge of  impeccable honesty and high intellectual calibre, had a very rare commitment to social justice. 

In 1985, in the K.C. Vasanth Kumar and Another vs State of Karnataka case, Justice Reddy was part of the bench which stipulated the parameters to identify the Other Backward Classes in the country based on their social and educational backwardness.  

The Karnataka government appointed Justice Chinnappa Reddy as the chairman of the Third Backward Class Commission in 1988. It asked the commission to review the reports of previous Backward Class Commissions, evolve parameters and identify classes in Karnataka eligible for OBC reservations and recommend other policy measures required for the OBCs in Karnataka.  

Justice Chinnappa Reddy considered “economic and cultural impoverishment and social deprivations” as the causes of perpetual backwardness, stating that these factors perpetuate disadvantages based on class, status and power. While poverty was considered an indicator of economic impoverishment and educational attainments an indicator of cultural impoverishment, the commission also considered social deprivation as stemming from a structure based on hierarchical caste and community status. 

To evolve quantifiable indicators to reflect on all these factors, the commission considered:

 1) Caste- and community-based poverty level in comparison with the corresponding state averages;

2) Caste and community averages of students appearing in the SSLC (state board examination at the 10th standard, the first and biggest elimination stage on the education ladder) in comparison with the state average; 

3) The representation of the castes and communities in the higher education in comparison with the state average; and 

4) The representation of the castes and the communities in the state services, including government departments, state undertakings and universities.

The commission sought empirical data for these questions from all the state departments and affiliates. It also visited more than 500 villages across Karnataka and got first-hand information about the plight and demands of the people. 

The commission then adopted the estimation of the caste/community population that had been made by the Second Backward Class Commission headed by T. Venkataswamy in 1983, based on the 1931 census and by visiting lakhs of homes. Accordingly, the Chinnappa Reddy Commission estimated the population of Karnataka in 1988 as 4.4 crores, of which Brahmins were estimated to comprise 3.45%, Lingayats 15.33%, Vokkaligas 10.8%, scheduled castes 16.71% and Muslims 11.67%. 

File image of members of the Vokkaliga Sangha protesting in Bengaluru against Congress leader D.K. Shivakumar’s arrest by the ED. Photo: Twitter/@ANI

Educational backwardness

To quantify educational backwardness, the commission considered a caste-wise distribution of candidates who had appeared at the 1988 SSLC examinations and a caste-wise distribution of those who passed the same examinations. While the state population in 1988 was 4.4 crores, around 3.4 lakh students appeared in the SSLC examination. Thus, 0.77% of the state population took the SSLC examinations in 1988, of whom 0.33% passed the examinations. 

The commission then took the figure of 0.77% as the state average in SSLC appearance and compared it with a caste-wise average of appearance. If the percentage of any caste appearing for the examinations was above 0.77%, the caste was considered educationally forward. If it was below 0.77%, the caste or community was considered educationally backward to the extent of its percentage. 

This empirical data showed that while only 0.77% of the state population could take the SSLC, 1.41% of the Brahmin population, which was around 15 lakhs, was able to take the SSLC examinations, which was twice the state average. The Vokkaliga community at 1.10%, and the Lingayat community at 0.94%, had also appeared for the SSLC, obviously above the state average. 

On the other hand only 0.59% of the population of scheduled castes could take the SSLC exams in 1988 – 23% less than the state average of 0.77%. 

But the case of the Muslim population was worse. In 1988, only 0.48% of the Muslim population of 51.47 lakhs took the SSLC exams – 37% less than the state average of 0.77% and 14% less than the scheduled castes average. 

Muslim students talk to police personnel after having been asked to take off their hijab before entering a college campus in Shivamogga, February 16, 2022. Photo: PTI/File

Higher education backwardness 

The commission also sought caste- and community-wise data of enrolment into medical, engineering, agricultural and other such professional courses and also of the admissions to postgraduate colleges to prepare consolidated comparative caste- and community-wise data for admission to higher education. 

The empirical date suggested that out of around 10,000 admissions into the different streams of higher education described above, in 1988, students belonging to the Brahmin community had captured 2,215 seats – 21.46% of the seats. This meant that a caste with a 3.45% population in the state had garnered 21.46% of the seats in higher education. 

The scheduled castes, with a population of 16.71% in the state, had only 14.44% of the higher education seats in spite of statutory reservations. 

But Muslims, with 11.67% of the population of the state, had only 5.71% of the higher education seats, even with the then existing reservations for the community under the OBC category. In other words, Muslims had accounted for less than half their share in the state population, while Brahmins accounted for seven times more than their population share. But now, according to the Karnataka government’s decision to scrap the 4% reservation for Muslims in the OBC category, Muslims will share the EWS category with Brahmins.

These empirical studies conducted by the Chinnappa Reddy Commission conclusively proved the necessity of exclusive educational reservation for Muslims under Article 15 (4) of the Indian constitution.

Representation in government services 

Next, the Chinnappa Reddy commission dived deep into caste- and community-wise representation in government services to estimate the reservations required for different communities under Article 16 (4) of the Constitution of India. 

The commission sent detailed questionnaires to different departments and sought the required information for Groups A and B services, junior engineers and assistant engineers, Group C, and recruitments to Groups A, B, C, and D in all government departments, universities, affiliates of the Government and so on. 

After analysing this empirical data, the commission found that Brahmins, who constituted 3.5% of the state’s population,  had shares of 18.12% in Group A, and 26.43% in the recruitment  of the posts in Groups A and B in public sector undertakings. 

Meanwhile, Muslims, who comprised 11.67% of the population, secured only 7% of the recruitment to government services, despite reservations.

What will happen to Muslims now, if the community’s OBC reservation is removed and they are asked to compete with Brahmins?

Social Democratic Party of India stages protest in Bengaluru over changed reservation norms in Karnataka. Photo: Twitter/ SDPI. Karnataka

Social backwardness of Muslims

In its summary about the situation of Muslims, the commission quoted the findings of a study by Professor G. Thimmaiah of the Institute of Social and Economic Change. The report stated: “According to a study conducted by G. Thimmaiah of the Institute Of Social and Economic Change, which covered the period of 1974-75, 56.5% of the Muslim population in the state was below the poverty line compared with 31.4% among the Christians and 45.2% among the Hindus. Only the scheduled castes (58.4%) and the scheduled tribes (66.3%) had a high population living below the poverty line.” 

The commission also observed, “By this study, it has been concluded that the Muslims are very close to the Scheduled Castes as far as economic conditions are concerned.” 

One and a half decades later, the Sachar Commission report of 2006 came to a similar conclusion. 

The Chinnappa Reddy Commission also made this observation about Muslims in page 142 of volume 1 of its report: “Two striking things about the Muslim community in Karnataka are the extreme economic and cultural poverty of the vast majority of the community and the wide gap that separates the rich and the poor members of the community.” (Emphasis mine.)

Based on scientific studies and empirical date, the Third Backward Class Commission headed by Justice Chinnappa Reddy concluded that:

“The picture presented by the Muslim Community as a whole is that of a socially and educationally backward class.” (Emphasis mine.)

The Chinnappa Reddy commission thus recommended that Muslims should be grouped in category 2 of the OBC category. Based on this recommendation, the Veerappa Moily government, on September 17, 1994, categorised Muslims under 2-b of the OBC category and provided them with 4% reservation. 

Thus, even a cursory glance at Third Backward Class Commission of Karnataka’s report shows that all the  BJP government’s arguments in favour of removing reservations for the Muslims from the OBC category are unconstitutional and ill-intentioned.