The Supreme Court on Wednesday asked the Union government if its 10% reservation for economically weaker sections reduced opportunities for candidates from the general category who are competing for jobs solely on merit, Bar and Bench reported.

On January 12, 2019, the government brought a constitutional amendment to Articles 15 and 16 of the Constitution, which deal with the rights to equality and reservation. Before this, seats and jobs were reserved for candidates from Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and socially and educationally backward classes. With this amendment, the government introduced a 10% reservation for general category citizens who are economically weaker.

According to the Centre, a person whose family income is less than Rs 8 lakh belongs to the economically weak section.

However, several petitions have been filed against the government’s move, arguing that it violated the basic structure – the unamendable foundational feature of the Constitution – as it awarded reservations solely based on economic backwardness and pushed the total quantum of reserved seats to more than 50%.

At Wednesday’s hearing, a five-judge bench led by Chief Justice of India UU Lalit questioned the Centre’s move to carve out an economically weaker sections quota from the general or unreserved category.

“Now you are reducing the share of the pie who could have got seats on own merit in a general category?” the chief justice asked. “Suppose there are 5% seats for Muslims and there could be more meritorious Muslims than this 5% and the last person in this category could be less meritorious than who is left out. Idea is that open general category has to be open.”

He asked if the open category is being “eaten into” does it violate the basic structure of the Constitution.

The Centre, represented by Attorney General KK Venugopal, said the reservations do not violate the basic structure of the Constitution. He stated that the general category should welcome reservations as it seeks to uplift the poor.

“EWS is for people who don’t go to school, and for those who have to be compelled to go to school,” the attorney general submitted. “They just cannot get admission where they want. This quota ensures they are also getting day will come when this 10% will reduce and this is just an enabling provision.”

Referring to constitutional provisions, the top law officer said that Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes have been given reservations in promotion in government jobs, legislature, panchayat and municipalities, PTI reported.

“EWS have been given this for the first time,” he added. “On the other hand, so far as the SCs and STs are concerned, they have been loaded with the benefits by way of State affirmative actions. They are highly unequals.”

The matter will be heard again on Thursday.