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Reservation for economically backward of upper castes: A timely stroke by Modi?

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New Delhi, Jan 8: The Union Cabinet on Monday, January 7, approved 10 per cent reservation for economically backward sections of the upper castes. The government, which just has a few months in office now, will table a constitutional amendment bill to this effect on Tuesday, January 8, the final day of the Winter Session.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi

The targeted quota is to reserve 10 per cent of government jobs through direct recruitment and seats in the higher educational institutions for the economically backward sections of the upper castes. Formally, the section is likely to be referred to as those who are 'not covered by existing schemes of reservations' or as members of the 'general category' or 'open category' or 'non-reserved', rather than as 'upper castes'.

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The new quota would also cover the economically backward members of the upper castes of other religions. This could apply to some converts in India who have continued with their caste identities, leading to caste-based distinction within religions that otherwise do not have them traditionally.

The 'economically backward' tag would be applicable to those members from the 'upper castes' who have an annual income of less than Rs 8 lakh, possess agricultural land measuring less than five hectares, own houses less than 1,000 square feet in size, have residential plots measuring below 100 square yards in notified municipalities or 200 square yards in non-notified municipality areas.

The announcement comes just months ahead of the general elections and is aimed at consolidating the BJP's upper caste votes. The RSS has been eyeing long for reservation on lines of economic status rather than caste.

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Reports said the new quota would be implemented in a '50+10' formula, taking the total reservation past 50 per cent cap put by the Supreme Court. It is said the Modi government hence is fine with constitutional amendments to allow this. Amendments to Articles 15 and 16 are likely to be introduced in Parliament although there will not be enough time to take up the issue in a meaningful way in the Winter Session.

However, even if the amendments are not approved, the matter is likely to be one of the BJP's key poll plank in the upcoming general elections.

Infographic: The 10 per cent upper caste quota explained

The Opposition has called the move a complete gimmick.

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