The Government on Thursday informed the Supreme Court that it has taken a “considered decision” to revisit the “criteria” for determining Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) to provide them reservation.
The Union Government, represented by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, said it would take four weeks for the exercise.
The submission follows rounds of grilling from the court during past hearings to reveal the logic and study before zeroing in on the “exact figure” of ₹8 lakh as the annual income limit to identify the EWS.
“The Union Government has taken a considered decision to revisit the criteria for determining the economically weaker sections in terms of the provisions of the Explanation to Article 15 of the Constitution inserted by the Constitution (103rd Amendment) Act 2019,” a Bench led by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud recorded in its order.
The court was hearing a case filed by NEET aspirants challenging a July 29 notification announcing 27% quota to OBCs and 10% reservation to EWS in the All India Quota (AIQ) category.
The Government assured the court that the NEET counselling would be deferred for four weeks till a decision was taken on the EWS quota.
“The Solicitor General states that a period of four weeks would be required for this exercise [revisiting EWS criteria] and pending its conclusion, the date for counselling shall stand postponed…” the court order said.
The Bench scheduled the case next on January 6.
Mr. Mehta, appearing for the Government along with Additional Solicitor General K.M. Natraj, said they have been instructed to submit that a committee would be set up to review the “criteria” to identify the EWS category.
The EWS quota was meant for persons who earned less than ₹8 lakh annually and did not benefit from any other existing reservation.
In a previous hearing, the apex court had expressed its annoyance at the Government for not filing an affidavit explaining how it reached the ₹8 lakh figure to identify the EWS category.
“Tell us if you want to revisit the criteria or not. If you want us to discharge our duties, then we are ready to do so. We are formulating questions… you need to answer them,” Justice Chandrachud had said.
The court had even threatened to “stay the Government notification fixing ₹8 lakh for determining the EWS”.
“You cannot just pick ₹8 lakh out of the thin air and fix it as a criterion. There has to be some basis, some study. Tell us whether any demographic study or data was taken into account in fixing the limit. How do you arrive at this exact figure? Can the Supreme Court strike down the criteria if no study was undertaken?” the court had asked the Government.
In a hearing on October 7, the Government had assured the court that it would file an affidavit on oath explaining the reasons and statistics which led to the figure as the annual income criterion.
The Supreme Court’s query was considered significant as the 103rd Constitutional Amendment of 2019, which introduced the 10% EWS quota, was itself under challenge before a larger Bench. The Amendment is under question for making economic criterion as the sole ground for grant of reservation benefits.
The court had insisted on the affidavit though Mr. Natraj urged it to leave the “larger” issue of what led to income criterion of ₹8 lakh for the Constitution Bench to examine.
The Supreme Court had earlier raised several questions about this criterion and made a prima facie observation that it appeared to be arbitrary, while hearing a batch of petitions related to NEET-AIQ.