No caste centric definition of backwardness: SC

In a landmark ruling, the Supreme Court of India set aside Union Government’s decision to include Jats (community) in the Union List of Other Backward Classes (OBC) category that entitled them to reservations in jobs and educational establishments.

“The aforesaid notification bearing No. 63 dated 4.3.2014 including the Jats in the Central List of Other Backward Classes for the States of Bihar, Gujarat, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, NCT of Delhi, Bharatpur and Dholpur Districts of Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand is set aside and quashed”, the Court said.

The Union Government allowed the inclusion of Jats in the Union List contrary to the recommendation of the National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC).

The Court said that “provisions contained in Section 9 of the NCBC Act clearly indicate that the advice tendered by the NCBC is ordinarily binding on the Government meaning thereby that the same can be overruled/ignored only for strong and compelling reasons which reasons would be expected to be available in writing.”

The Court said that any determination of OBCs should be based on contemporaneous data. Outdated statistics cannot provide accurate parameters for measuring backwardness for the purpose of inclusion in the list of Other Backward Classes. This is because one may legitimately presume progressive advancement of all citizens on every front i.e. social, economic and education. Any other view would amount to retrograde governance, it said.

“Article 16(4) as also Article 15(4) [Constitution] lays the foundation for affirmative action by the State to reach out the most deserving. Social groups who would be most deserving must necessarily be a matter of continuous evolution. New practices, methods and yardsticks have to be continuously evolved moving away from caste centric definition of backwardness. This alone can enable recognition of newly emerging groups in society which would require palliative action”, the Court observed.

“An affirmative action policy that keeps in mind only historical injustice would certainly result in under-protection of the most deserving backward class of citizens, which is constitutionally mandated. It is the identification of these new emerging groups that must engage the attention of the State and the constitutional power and duty must be concentrated to discover such groups rather than to enable groups of citizens to recover “lost ground” in claiming preference and benefits on the basis of historical prejudice”, the Court added.

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