Reservation is meant for social upliftment and not financial empowerment, the Supreme Court remarked on Thursday while hearing pleas challenging the quota for Economically Weaker Sections, Bar and Bench reported.

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 Thursday’s hearing, Senior Advocate Vibha Dutta Makhija, appearing for a group of students from the EWS category, said that the 10% quota is in line with the transformative goals of the Constitution, Live Law reported.

To this, Chief Justice UU Lalit said that the petitioners are not denying that those out of the the ambit of caste-based reservations are poverty-stricken.

“They are saying that their poverty can be alleviated by other means – subsidies, scholarships etc,” he said. “Reservation as a traditional concept is not for financial empowerment, it is for social empowerment, it not just to improvise the economic lot or status.”

The chief justice also observed that unlike caste discrimination, poverty does not necessarily get carried from one generation to the other.

“There is no anthropological study which shows that there are families who suffer from generations from poverty if they are not backward,” Lalit said, according to Live Law.

This was after Makhija argued that caste was a ground for discrimination when the Constitution was drafted, but that is not the case anymore.

Meanwhile, Solicitor General, appearing for the Centre, rejected the petitioners’ argument that the 10% quota should be quashed on the grounds that no guidelines were issued to determine the criteria for the reservation.

Mehta argued that the absence of guidelines should not be the reason to strike down the provision, Bar and Bench reported.

“It is curable, the government can come out with a commission,” he said. “If without that exercise, some state implements EWS, then it may be open to challenge.”

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 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.