Ravi Shankar Prasad interview | ‘We must welcome the changing contours of reservation system’
With the Supreme Court’s Constitution Bench judgment upholding the 10% reservation for the Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) introduced by the Narendra Modi-led Central government, former Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad has maintained that the judgment upholds the competency of Parliament to change the Constitution, the importance of not second-guessing legislative will, the validity of economic criteria for reservation and that the “alleged disadvantages of one cannot be a ground to deny any advantage to other disadvantaged communities”.
Also Read | The curious case of EWS
In an interview with The Hindu, Mr. Prasad further argued that this is a sign of the evolution of the contours of reservation, and that this evolution should be allowed to continue unhindered. Excerpts:
Q / While Scheduled Castes(SCs), Scheduled Tribes (STs), and Other Backward Classes (OBCs) see their backwardness as associated with their caste-identity, what is the EWS class’ backwardness a result of?
As far as OBC is concerned, remember one thing very clearly, OBCs did not feel the same level of deprivation as the SCs felt. Therefore, Constitution makers rightly took into account the whole diversity of India’s social empowering movement. Now, if, for inclusive development, you also seek to take into account the economic deprivations of many of these communities, poor, marginalised – that is what has been done. Therefore, the whole comparison is misplaced, whosoever they do it. And can they by that logic prevent the Parliament from enacting a law on a particular subject? Parliament represents the collective will of the people. No one else brought about this, the Narendra Modi government brought about this. They felt the need for it and everyone supported it [in Parliament, when the Constitutional Amendment was tabled].
Q / What did the government then see as the discrimination or underlying social cause for the economic backwardness of this class that is being created?
Discrimination is one aspect of it. As for special provisions, [the Constitution] says, nothing in this Article shall prevent the state from making a special provision for the advancement of any socially educationally backward class of citizens or for SCs and STs. Therefore, discrimination is not per se mentioned here. What is mentioned is, the plea for equality of opportunity is there. The plea for non-discrimination against women, religions, is there, but there will have to be special provisions for STs and SCs and socio-economic and educationally backward classes. That [the comparison] would be unfortunate as SC is different, ST is different, OBC is different. With the passage of time, don’t we see evolving standards for benchmarking reservation so that it doesn’t become a monopoly of the few? Therefore, income, social status, landed property — all these things have been benchmarked, for OBCs in particular, and that is a good thing. Therefore, let it evolve. And this evolution should be allowed to go uninterrupted with obviously Parliamentary intervention from time to time.
Q / Another aspect has been that, by nature of the exclusion in the EWS quota, it is essentially a forward-caste reservation. How do you respond to this argument?
I would say it is an argument for the sake of argument without any logic or foundation. When the amendment itself says economically weaker section, which will be defined by the state depending upon the income and other standards, then how? Therefore, this whole argument is completely misplaced. And I have said at the very beginning, existing reservation rights have not been touched at all. What is the present position? 27% backwards, 15% SC, 7.5% ST and 4% who are benchmark disabled. Now, it (EWS) is a new addition in the fundamental rights itself by the constitutionally prescribed mode of constitutional amendment under Article 368. This fact is very, very important.
Q / So where to from here? Is the government expecting that the need for caste-based reservation will reduce slowly, now that the economic criteria has been opened up?
Today also, SC and ST boys do well in merit or not? And I’m very happy that a large number of people of reserved category are shining in merit. I can tell you like FICCI, there is an organisation called DICCI – Dalit Indian Chamber of Commerce. And what is the thing there – only Dalit entrepreneurs having a turnover of ₹50 crore or plus will be a member. They’re doing so well. I support them a lot. And their theme is, we don’t seek employment, we give employment. As the former Information Technology Minister, I know for sure how many boys and girls from the so-called reserved category, OBC in particular, in case of SC also, are doing so well as startups. They are giving jobs. Technology, entrepreneurship, merit, all these three are surely changing the whole contours of reservation. And we must welcome that. Therefore, let this pace of evolution of India’s enterprise, entrepreneurship and creativity be allowed to continue unhindered without at all controlling or removing the reservations existing for these groups, which is a completely valid Constitutional requirement.