Former Chief Ministers of Tamil Nadu-Jayalalitha, MGR, Karunanidhi (left to right). 
Snapshot
  • All you need to know about the whys, hows and whens of caste-based reservation in the Dravidian state.

If you make reservation in favour of what are called backward classes which is nothing but a collection of certain castes, those who are excluded are persons who belong to certain castes. 
BR Ambedkar, in the debate preceding the First Amendment to the Constitution in 1951

1. Why are we talking about reservations now?

These are the two primary reasons:

a. The Tamil Nadu government, led by AIADMK, called for an all-party meeting last week to discuss the reservation for the Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) enacted by the central government. As many as 16 out of the 21 parties were against the move.

b. The Supreme Court refused to stay the EWS reservation brought in by the central government through the 103rd amendment. It will start hearing the complaints at length, starting from 30 July.

2. What are the articles in the Indian Constitution that provide for reservations?

a. Article 16 talks about reservation for jobs. It has nothing on education.

b. Article 46, on the directive principles of state policy, talks about advancing the educational and economic interests of SC/ST and weaker sections.

c. Article 15 (4) talks about advancement of weaker sections .

PS: There are other clauses such as Article 29 and Article 38 as well (This is just a primer. The chronology and amendments are subjects of another detailed article by legal experts).

3. Can reservations be made based on economic criteria?

a. In the Constituent Assembly debates, as could be expected, there were strong differences of opinion on the use of economic criteria for reservations. When it was put to vote ultimately, it was agreed that reservations would be based on caste. The debate continues till date.

b. Post the Mandal Commission recommendations, the Narasimha Rao government inserted a clause in the memorandum (no Constitutional amendment like the 103rd) to reserve 10 per cent in central government positions for the economically weaker sections. The Indra Sawhney judgement dumped it.

c. The Constituent Assembly vote of 1950 is being used as an argument by opponents of the 103rd amendment enacted by the BJP government in January. The contention is that the basic structure of the Constitution does not allow for legislation on reservations based on economic criteria. The 103rd amendment can be read here.

4. What is the permissible reservation quota according to the government of India?

a. The Constituent Assembly debates did not offer the benefit of caste-based reservations to central government jobs and educational institutions to categories other than SCs/STs.

b. In 1954, in a meeting of chief secretaries, it was fixed as 15 per cent for SCs and 5 per cent for STs. By 1982, it was made 15 per cent for SCs and 7.5 per cent for STs.

c. The Mandal commission was formed in 1979 under the Janata Party government. In 1980, it came up with a report of 3,743 caste groups among Other Backward Classes (OBCs) as socially and educationally backward.

d. The V P Singh government issued a memorandum allocating a quota of 27 per cent to the Other Backward Classes as identified by the Mandal Commission.

e. It was put forth in the famous Indra Sawhney case relating to the Mandal judgement that reservations should not be more than 50 per cent. But the then chief justice Venkatachaliah, who headed the bench, also said, “While 50 percent shall be the rule, it is necessary not to put out of consideration certain extraordinary situations inherent in the great diversity of this country and the people.”

f. The Mandal commission had estimated that 52 per cent of India’s population were OBCs. The number was deduced from a 1931 census and has been widely disputed.

5. What is the current reservation structure in Tamil Nadu?

This table summarizes the list quite effectively.

Break-up of reservation in Tamil Nadu Break-up of reservation in Tamil Nadu

6. What is this Backward Class (BC) & Most Backward Class (MBC) business? Why are there two categories?

a. In 1954, the government of Madras passed an order allocating 16 per cent reservations for SCs and 25 per cent for Backward Classes (Proceedings of the Indian History Congress, vol. 75, 2014, pp. 1215–1223).

b. In 1953, the Government of India had formed the First National Backward Classes Commission under the chairmanship of Kaka Kalelkar. It recommended that, of the 2,399 castes among Backward Classes, 837 were Most Backward. In line with this, in 1957, the government of Madras prepared a list of caste groups under the BC and MBC categories.

7. Then how come 69 per cent reservation is allowed in Tamil Nadu?

a. The M G Ramachandran (MGR)-led AIADMK government increased the BC quota from 31 per cent to 50 per cent in 1980. By including the SC/ST quota of 19 per cent, it adds up to 69 per cent.

b. After the Supreme Court’s Indra Sawhney judgement capping reservations at 50 per cent, Jayalalithaa, the then chief minister, enacted the Tamil Nadu Backward Classes, Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes Act, 1993.

c. She had successful parleys with former prime minister Narasimha Rao and president Shankar Dayal Sharma and managed to place the Act in the Ninth Schedule, derisively called the “Constitutional dustbin”, making it immune from judicial review.

d. The jury is still out on whether the 69 per cent goes against the basic tenets of the Constitution.

e. Also there are questions about whether the Ninth Schedule laws can destroy the basic structure of the Constitution.

8. How does Tamil Nadu work around the 50-69 per cent conundrum in educational institutions?

a. By creating supernumerary seats!

b. In 1994, the Supreme Court passed an interim order directing the government of Tamil Nadu to create additional seats in professional colleges to accommodate students who would have been selected under the 50 per cent rule instead of the 69 per cent rule. Similar orders were passed from year to year till 2010.

9. What is the reservation percentage for the SC/ST population?

a. As noted before, in 1954, it was fixed at 15 per cent for SCs and 5 per cent for STs. By 1982, it became 15 per cent for SCs and 7.5 per cent for STs.

b. The state-wise reservation for SC/ST population is decided based on local demographics. It is 18 per cent for SCs and 1 per cent for STs in Tamil Nadu currently.

c. The SC/ST reservation, all-India,was increased from 8.3 per cent in 1943 to 16 per cent in 1951.

d. In 1971, based on the Sattanathan commission report (more on this committee later), the SC reservation was increased to 18 per cent. In 1989, a separate 1 per cent reservation was made for STs.

e. In 2009, a separate 3 per cent was carved out of the 18 per cent reserved for SCs to the Aruthathiyar community.

10. What were the major commissions formed on framing caste- based reservations?

a. First Backward Classes (Sattanathan) Commission, 1969
b. Second Backward Classes (Ambasankar) Commission, 1982
c. Enumeration (Venkatakrishnan) Commission, 1988
d. Permanent Backward Classes Commissions (started in 1993) under the chairmanship of:

i. K Shanmugam: 1993-1997
ii. K M Natarajan: 1997-2002
iii. Arumugam: 2002-2006
iv. Janardhanam: 2006-2015

11. What were the major findings of these commissions?

a. Sattanathan Commission

i. Formed in 1969 by the DMK government under M Karunanidhi

ii. Noted that a few castes were taking up the lion’s share of reservation benefits

iii. The Commission found that the Most Backward Classes had a very small presence in state services and professional colleges as they were clubbed together with other castes.

iv. Recommended a separate educational and employment reservation of 16 per cent for MBCs and 17 per cent for BCs (From 1951 onwards, reservation for the Backward Classes was 25 per cent till then)

v. In 1971, the DMK government hiked the reservation for Backward Classes from 25 per cent to 31 per cent and for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes from 16 per cent to 18 per cent.

vi. Recommended the removal of the ‘creamy layer’— families of salaried persons whose annual income exceeded Rs 9,000, landowners with more than 10 acres of land and business people with taxable income exceeding Rs 9,000.

b. Ambasankar Commission

i. In 1980, M G Ramachandran’s AIADMK government increased the reservation for BCs from 31 per cent to 50 per cent after their defeat in the Lok Sabha elections.

ii. In 1982, the Supreme Court directed the state government to constitute the second Tamil Nadu Backward Classes Commission to examine the issue of reservations exceeding 50 per cent. Ambasankar was its chairman.

iii. It was found that of the total number among the Backward Classes students admitted to professional courses, more than three-fourths were from a small number of Backward Classes (34 out of 222 then) accounting for only about two-fifths of the Backward Classes population in the state.

iv. The commission identified castes that formed the creamy layer and recommended that they be removed from the list of beneficiaries.

v. The employment and educational status of the BCs in 1980-81 is available in the report as a benchmark.

vi. Considering the commission's estimate of the BC population as 67 per cent and the majority members’ recommendation for 67 per cent reservation, the government issued orders to continue the existing 50 per cent reservation for BCs.

vii. The government added 29 communities to the BCs list, without deleting any recommended for deletion

viii. The government also retained the existing list of MBCs within the BCs list without granting any separate reservation for the MBCs.

ix. This led to the Vanniyar Sangam protests in 1988.

c. Venkatakrishnan Commission

i. Formed after the violent Vanniyar protests of 1988, by governor P C Alexander to enumerate the Most Backward Classes in Tamil Nadu. The state was under President’s rule then.

ii. Vanniyars demanded an interim solution. In 1989, chief minister M Karunanidhi wound up the commission and legislated a 20 per cent reservation of MBCs (which includes Vanniyars) from the 50 per cent for BCs.

d. Janardhanam-led Permanent Commission at various times:

i. In 2007, recommended 3.5 per cent reservation each for BC Muslims and BC Christians, carved from the BC quota of 30 per cent.

ii. In 2009, suggested a 3 per cent sub-quota for Arunthathiyars from the SC quota of 19 per cent. (Here is more)

iii. In 2011, Chief Minister Jayalalithaa issued a Government Order that the 69 per cent reservation will continue without elimination of the creamy layer, though the Supreme Court gave only one year’s time. This was based on a report by the then commission that Janarthanam was chairing.

12. What happened under the various Chief Ministers?

The political events that shaped the quota saga will be a topic of a fascinating book. How communities, political compulsions, leaders and committee members acted will be interesting to know.

a. K Kamaraj

i. Held parleys to prune the BC/MBC list in 1956 according to the Kalelkar commission.

b. M Karunanidhi

i. Constituted the Sattanathan commission in 1971. He hiked the reservation for the Backward Classes from 25 per cent to 31 per cent and for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes from 16 per cent to 18 per cent.

ii. In 1989, he dismantled the Venkatakrishnan committee for caste enumeration and carved out the MBC quota of 20 per cent from the BC quota of 50 per cent, and added 1 per cent for STs.

iii. Brought in BC Christians and Muslims within the BC ambit reserving 3.5 per cent for each.

iv. Included separate 3 per cent for Arunthathiyars under SC quota.

v. Included his own caste, Isai Vellalars, in the MBC list.

c. M G Ramachandran

i. MGR issued an order in July 1979 prescribing that those with an annual income lower than Rs 9,000 belonging to Backward Classes were eligible to get the benefits of reservation.

ii. He was defeated in the Lok Sabha polls of 1980.

iii. MGR not only withdrew the order, but also increased the reservation for the BCs from 31 per cent to 50 per cent, raising the total reservation to 68per cent

d. Jayalalithaa

i. Instrumental in stamping the 69 per cent by deft political manoeuvring and placing the Tamil Nadu Act in the Ninth Schedule.

ii. Kept the creamy layer from being excluded in 2011 even after the Supreme Court order.

13. How did the Vanniyars manage the MBC quota?

i. The Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) chief, S Ramadoss, arguably led the most successful reservation agitation in Tamil Nadu.

ii. Vanniyars form the largest MBC community in Tamil Nadu at approximately 12 per cent of the population.

iii. The violent protests of the Vanniyar Sangam in 1987-88 was instrumental in Karunanidhi carving out 20 per cent quota for MBCs.

iv. He once even asked for splitting of Tamil Nadu into two so that northern Vanniyar-dominated districts can have their own chief minister. (More here).

14. Do Muslims and Christians enjoy reservation benefits?

a. Tamil Nadu Backward Class Christians and Backward Class Muslims under the “Reservation of seats in educational institutions, including private educational institutions and of appointments or posts in the services under the State Act of 2007” have obtained reservation of 3.5 per cent each for BC Muslims and Christians from the BC quota of 30 per cent.

15. What are the discontents?

a. Creamy layer

i. Even as early as 1965, before the OBC quota came into existence, a committee headed by the thenlaw secretary, B N Lokur, noted that among the SC/ST group, a few castes are taking disproportionate benefit.

ii. Both Sattanathan and Ambasankar reports point to the creamy layer issue. It is also referred in the Mandal judgement of 1992. In 2006, Supreme Court asked Tamil Nadu to exclude the creamy layer from reservations. But even in 2011, creamy layer was not excluded. It continues to be included to this day.

iii. In 2008, the Supreme Court upheld the creamy layer exclusion.

iv. As of 2018, the creamy layer limit is at Rs 8 lakh per annum income for OBCs.

v. The Supreme Court has said that the creamy layer limit will apply even for the SC/ST group.

b. According to the Ambasankar report, 40 per cent of the castes in the BC list garnered 75 per cent of the benefits. For example, Agamudayars are 5 per cent of the group, but garnered 11per cent of seats in professional courses.

c. There are malcontents even after reclassification, since the actual headcount of communities is not known. Many leaders and commentators have called for caste-based census to ascertain the exact numbers

16. Is there a need for caste-based census?

a. Check out my detailed piece on this written a few days ago.

b. The number of castes included in the BC list increased from about 181 in 1970 to 222 in 1980, to 251 in 2011. The State’s population included in the BC and MBC list, is now at 87 per cent (67 per cent BCs, besides 19 per cent SCs and 1 per cent STs).

c. The list of BCs and MBCs of Tamil Nadu can be viewed here.

17. Can a state conduct caste-based census?

a. There are two views about this: One is that only the centre can conduct census; the other is that states can conduct their own census (giving the Karnataka example).

b. The Supreme Court ordered Tamil Nadu to produce the actual percentage of BCs in the state. Since it would have cost Rs500 crore for such an exercise, the state sought the centre’s help. In a related case, the Madras High Court ordered the Census department in 2010 to carry out a caste-based census. But in 2014, the SC struck down the order.

18. Have other states done caste-based census?

a. Yes, a recent example being Karnataka. The state conducted a caste census in 2015. But the report is yet to see the light of the day. The possible under-estimation of the two major castes there, namely Vokkaligas and Lingayats, has ruffled the feathers of political leaders from all sides.

19. When was the last caste-based census conducted in India?

a. It was in 1931 that the last “big” census with caste details was conducted. It calls for fascinating reading. There are a few myths that will be busted, especially on educational advancements of Brahmins.

b. In 1961 and 1971 census, the caste details of SC/ST population was enumerated.

c. The accounting of SC/ST population happens in each census. But as noted before, caste-wise details within this group was last enumerated in 1971.

d. There was a Socio Economic and Caste census conducted in 2011. But it was not conducted under the Census Act of 1948 and hence, it was not mandatory to disclose it to the public. It had been adopted as the basis for social programmes by the previous government. An expert committee under the Ministry of Social Justice is examining the report.

e. Political leaders across India, including Lalu Yadav and Nitish Kumar, wanted the census made public. Tamil Nadu leaders also wanted it out to justify the 69 per cent reservation.

20. Are there imminent political benefits in rethinking reservations?

a. Some of the issues are analysed in my earlier piece here.

b. In the current landscape, a political actor can position himself as being pro-poor by championing the creamy layer criteria, while leaving the quotas undisturbed. This will dovetail with the central government’s EWS criteria enacted recently through the 103rd amendment. The justifications are already present in the reports of various commissions.

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