New Delhi: A national commission has said that upper castes who do not pay income tax are akin to other backward castes (OBCs), a policy recommendation which can have far-reaching consequences, reports Times of India.
The Commission for Economically Backward Classes, formed in response to the clamour for reservation benefits for the poor among upper castes, has equated them to OBCs. It has recommended that they be given special treatment in key sectors like education, housing, health and social sector.
Since preferential treatment in employment boils down to job reservations, it can be asssumed that the Commission's recommendation implies that if the government is to accept reservation for EBCs, there will be need for a constitutional amendment to get past the 50% ceiling on total quota.
The panel had been asked to suggest criteria for identifying EBCs, welfare measures and reservations for them, and to suggest constitutional and legal ways for their implementation.
The report of the Commission, chaired by SR Sinho and including Narendra Kumar as member and Mahendra Singh as member-secretary, may test the government at a time when it is facing quota conflicts.
The panel's recommendation that EBCs, which it has estimated at six crore, deserve state support on a par with the OBCs flies in the face of the post-independence policy that favoured only socially backward classes for affirmative action.
The EBCs would comprise upper castes from all religions.
The introduction of economic criteria to affirmative action may trigger a new debate if it is expanded to include reservation. The present quota regime is limited to SC/STs and OBCs which are communities facing social backwardness. The new move would lead to insertion of economic criteria in reservation policy. This is first move of its kind at the central level.
Sources said the commission has said that non-IT paying upper castes would qualify as EBCs. It has argued that while they are not socially disadvantaged like the untouchables, they are on a par with OBCs.
The panel has even given a rough estimate of the EBCs -- six crore. After visiting 28 states over four years, the Commission has stated that EBCs form 20% of the population which is roughly one crore families. At an average of six members per family, the figure stands at six crore.
Acceptance of the recommendation will mean a clutch of preferential treatment policies for the non-IT payees among upper castes. While in education, the EBC children will be eligible for soft loans for higher education, scholarships, coaching for IAS/PCS exams, they will also be eligible for subsidized health facilities. Government help in housing sector can be in the form of loans, soft loans with lower rates of interest.