The Supreme Court on Tuesday said that an economic criterion cannot be the sole basis for identifying the “creamy layer” in backward classes, reported Bar and Bench. The court also quashed Haryana government notifications specifying the criterion for determining the “creamy layer” within the backward classes solely on the basis of annual income of the family.

“Creamy layer” is a term used for members of a backward class who have a higher educational and economic standing as compared to others in the group. Those identified in the “creamy layer” are not entitled to reservation in educational programmes and government jobs.

According to the 2016 notification issued under the Haryana Backward Classes (Reservation in Services and Admission in Educational Institutions) Act, children of citizens who have a gross annual income of up to Rs 3 lakh were to be given preference in getting the benefit of reservation. The remaining quota seats would go to the children of residents who earn more than Rs 3 lakh but less than Rs 6 lakh per year.

The Haryana government had issued another notification on the same matter in 2018, reported The Hindu.

The Punjab and Haryana High Court had held that government notifications creating a sub-classification in the “non-creamy layer” segment was unconstitutional, reported Live Law. It had said that there was no data to justify the classification. The High Court had appealed to the Supreme Court on the matter, according to Bar and Bench.

An organisation, Pichra Warg Kalyan Mahasabha Haryana, which challenged the notifications in the Supreme Court, said section 5(2) of the Act states that social, economic and other factors need to be considered when specifying the criteria for exclusion and identification of the person in the “creamy layer”. The organisation argued that only the economic criterion was considered when doing so, making the notifications invalid.

During the hearing, the Supreme Court cited the Indra Sawhney versus the Union of India case in which criteria for identifying the members of backward classes that belonged to the “creamy layer” was determined.

The Supreme Court observed:

This court held that persons from backward classes who occupied posts in higher services like IAS, IPS and All India Services had reached a higher level of social advancement and economic status and therefore, were not entitled to be treated as backward. Such persons were to be treated as ‘creamy layer’ without any further inquiry.

Likewise, people with sufficient income who were in a position to provide employment to others should also be taken to have reached a higher social status and therefore, should be treated as outside the backward class. Similarly, persons from backward classes who had higher agricultural holdings or were receiving income from properties, beyond a prescribed limit, do not deserve the benefit of reservation.

The Supreme Court then directed the Haryana government to issue a fresh notification within three months while considering the Indra Sawhney case and the criteria mentioned in Section 5(2) of the Act.

The bench also clarified that admissions and appointments that have already been made on the basis of the notifications will not be disturbed.

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