Economic criteria to ensure that the benefits of government policies reach the target group is not forbidden by law and forms a reasonable basis of classification, the Supreme Court observed orally on Wednesday while hearing pleas challenging the Centre’s decision to grant a 10% reservation to economically weaker sections category in admissions and jobs, reported PTI.

The petitioners before the a five-judge Constitution bench have challenged the 103rd amendment to the Constitution, which introduced changes to Articles 15 and 16 that deal with the right to equality and provide the basis for reservations.

At an earlier hearing on Tuesday, Advocate Mohan Gopal, representing a group of petitioners, had told the Supreme Court that the 103rd amendment is a “fraud on the Constitution”.

“This amendment is being seen as an instrument to protect the privileged rather than safeguarding the marginalised,” he had told the court.

On Wednesday, Lawyer Ravi Verma Kumar, argued that the law discriminates on grounds of caste and religion, violating the right of a person to avail himself of equal opportunities to public employment. This right is part of the basic structure of the Constitution, Kumar said.

“Dr BR Ambedkar was born a Hindu and died as a Buddhist and even he would not have got the reservation under the EWS quota scheme because it excludes Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes,” he added.

Kumar urged the court to take note of the fact that only candidates from upper castes accounted for only 5% of the population and were being given a 10% quota in jobs and admissions. Meanwhile, Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes form 85% of the population and are being accommodated in 50% quota, the lawyer argued.

The Union government introduced the economically weaker sections quota for those who cannot avail of reservations granted to Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes, but have an annual family income of less than Rs 8 lakh. However, if the family owns more than 5 acres of agricultural land or 1,000 square feet of residential land, the person will not be eligible.

Last year, the Supreme Court made a prima facie observation that these criteria seemed arbitrary. Since the income criteria of Rs 8 lakh per annum were used to exclude the “creamy layer” from the Other Backward Classes quota, the court questioned if the Centre had mechanically included the distinction for economically weaker sections as well.

A Constitution bench, led by Chief Justice UU Lalit, said it wants to examine whether the 10% quota for upper caste economically weak aspirants in government jobs and college admissions, violated the basic structure of the Constitution.

It will also check if the reservation framework was hampered by excluding Socially and Educationally Backward Classes, Other Backward Classes, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes from the scope of the quota.