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India

SUPREME COURT UPHOLDS CONTROVERSIAL JOB QUOTA POLICY AFTER 2-YEAR STAY

Updated: November 19, 1992 05:00 PM GMT
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The Indian Supreme Court upheld Nov. 16 a two-year-old government order to reserve jobs for backward communities.

The order reserves 27 percent of entry-level government jobs for the "other backward communities" (OBCs), in addition to the existing 22.5 percent quota for low castes and tribals.

The court had earlier stayed the August 1990 order of the National Front government led by Vishwanath Pratap Singh after anti-quota groups violently opposed the measure.

More than 100 people, mostly students, died in violence following the 1990 quota order. Several students committed suicide through self-immolation as a form of protest.

The Singh government wanted to implement the recommendations of a committee that was asked to review the government quota system.

In 1980 the Mandal commission led by Bindeshwari Prasad Mandal recommended that 27 percent of government jobs be reserved for "the socially and economically backward communities."

These communities, according to the commission, comprise 3,743 castes, and together with low castes and tribals constitute 52 percent of the country´s population.

While upholding the 1990 reservation policy, the Supreme Court verdict has asked the federal and state governments to set up within four months permanent commissions to monitor implementation of the quota policy.

However, the apex court has also asked governments "to siphon off the creamy layer" among OBCs so that the reservation benefits go to the truly poor among backward groups.

The Supreme Court wants the permanent commissions "to specify the socio- economic criteria" to be used in distinguishing between the better-off and the needy, and "to examine requests for inclusion and complaints against wrong inclusion" in the existing OBC list.

The court further ruled that the exclusion criteria formulated by the government can be challenged only in the Supreme Court.

Nine judges, led by Chief Justice M.H. Kania, heard 110 petitions by individuals and organizations challenging the constitutional validity of the 1990 reservation policy.

Some petitioners contended that the order denied the equality of opportunity guaranteed by the constitution.

Under the Indian judicial system, individual cases are heard by a single judge, while important issues are referred to three, five, seven or nine-member benches according to the significance of the issue in question.

The latest verdict, decided by 6-3 majority, struck down an "innovation" on the Mandal formula by the ruling Congress government that added a 10 percent "economic reservation" for the poor among high castes.

The 279-page decision held that total reservations cannot exceed 50 percent. High caste poor are not covered by the approved 49.5 percent reservation.

The court stipulated that reservation is only for initial appointments and does not apply to promotions. The judgment also ruled out reservation in appointments to technical and research posts.

The three dissenting judges rejected both the 27 percent quota for OBCs and the provision for 10 percent economic reservation on the grounds that "any reservation exclusively based on caste or religion will result in invidious discrimination, which is impermissible."

END

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