The 10% quota for the economically weaker section does not erode the rights of Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe communities as they already enjoy a lot of benefits, Attorney General KK Venugopal told the Supreme Court on Tuesday, reported Live Law.

A five-judge Constitution bench is hearing petitions challenging the Centre’s decision to grant a 10% quota to economically weaker sections category in admissions and jobs. The petitioners are against 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 Tuesday’s hearing, Venugopal said that members of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe communities have been given several benefits under the Constitution, including Article 16(4)(a) (special provision for promotion), Article 243D (reservation in panchayat and municipality seats), Article 330 (reservation in the Lok Sabha) and Article 332 (reservation in state legislative assemblies).

“So far as the SCs and STs are concerned, they have been loaded with benefits by way of affirmative actions,” he said. “They are highly unequal and in tremendous position so far as reservations are concerned.”

Citing the 2011 Census, Venugopal told the court, that the economically weaker sections make up for 25% of the country population of over 121 crore. Of this, he said 18.2%, or about 35 crore, belong to the General category, or upper castes. At an earlier hearing, the court had sought data from the Centre to support its claims about the representation of economically weaker sections in different categories.

The attorney general also argued that the 10% reservation was independent of the existing quota.

“The question of it [quota] exceeding the limit of 50% and hence violating the basic structure does not arise,” Venugopal added. “Unless you put forward a ground of discrimination and violation of Article 14 [equality before law] on the ground that the EWS in 15(4) category is similar to EWS in the general category, the question of special benefit does not arise.”

Article 15(4) states the the government cannot be prevented from making any laws for the advancement of socially and educationally backward classes or the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes.

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Reservation is only meant to remedy historical injustices, says petitioner challenging EWS quota

EWS quota

The Union government introduced the economically weaker sections quota for those who cannot avail themselves 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 had 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.