The Supreme Court on Thursday questioned the Centre’s rationale for fixing the income limit for inclusion in the Economically Weaker Sections category at Rs 8 lakh per year, Bar and Bench reported. The court asked the Union government what exercise it conducted before arriving at the figure.

In 2019, the Central government had extended EWS reservation in education and jobs to poorer sections with an annual income of less than Rs 8 lakh. This is meant for sections of society not covered by any reservation.

On Thursday, the Supreme Court was hearing a group of petitions challenging the 27% reservation for Other Backward Classes and 10% reservation for the EWS category in all-India quota seats in post-graduate medical courses. From among the candidates who clear the National Eligibility Entrance Test, 15% seats in MBBS courses and 50% seats in MS and MD courses are filled through the all-India quota.

The petitioners, who are NEET aspirants, also questioned whether an annual income of Rs 8 lakh was a valid criterion for being included in the EWS category.

Additional Solicitor General KM Natraj told the court that the decision was taken after proper deliberations, and after the approval of the Cabinet.

A bench comprising Justices Vikram Nath and BV Nagarathna and headed by Justice DY Chandrachud, however, pointed out that all such decisions have to be approved by the Cabinet, The Hindu reported.

“We are on something more fundamental… like what was the study done?” Justice Chandrachud said. “You have to demonstrate what is the data before you, who carried out the study, what were the contemporaneous statistics which the government had borne in mind while deciding on.”

Justice Chandrachud asked the government:

“Can you say Rs 8 lakh everywhere qualifies as EWS [economically weaker sections] or is there a need to have a more nuanced analysis to EWS of having different yardsticks to different parts of the country based on cost of living, HRA, etc?... Have you done any exercise? Have you checked the GDP per capita for every State?”

— Source: The Hindu

The court’s questions hold significance as the 103rd Constitutional Amendment Act of 2019 that introduced the 10% EWS quota, has been challenged in the Supreme Court and is being examined by a larger bench. It has been challenged for making economic criterion the only ground under which the EWS reservation benefits will be granted.

The Supreme Court also asked whether the Centre had simply extended the income limit for the creamy layer among OBC to the EWS category as well.

Justice Chandrachud noted that the concept of the creamy layer was to exclude people “who have become so economically advanced among our socially and educationally backward citizens that by reason of their economic advancement alone the indicia of backwardness is obliterated”, according to The Hindu.

He noted that the EWS category, in contrast, only takes into account a person’s economic condition.

The Court has asked the Centre to file an affidavit explaining its stand. The case will be heard next on October 20.