Quick Edit | You are Right, Your Honours. Quotas Should be Delinked from Religion

The Calcutta High Court is correct in cancelling OBC certificates issued by the state government after 2010

On May 22, the Calcutta High Court struck down the other backward classes (OBC) categorisations in West Bengal after 2010.The verdict rendered invalid Section 16, the second part of Section 2(h) and Section 5 (a) of the West Bengal Backward Classes (Other than Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes) (Reservation of Vacancies in Services and Posts). The court found legal and procedural lapses were identified in the classification process for OBCs in West Bengal pos- 2010. Nearly 5 lakh OBC certificates issued since 2010 stand to be cancelled even as West Bengal government is likely to take the matter to the Supreme Court. 

Article 16(4) of the Constitution allows the state to make provisions for reservation in appointments and posts for backward classes of citizens who are not adequately represented in services under the state. However, in this case the classification seemed unscientific and motivated by politics of appeasement which defeats the purpose and intention of Article 16(4). In a state which has 27% of its population as Muslims and where Islam is practised as a majority religion in three out of the 19 districts, Muslims form an important part of the electorate. 

In February 2010 the then West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had accepted the recommendations of Ranganathan Mishra Commission before the Centre’s decision on the report and had announced a 10% reservation in government jobs for Muslims in the state under the OBC category. The Ranganathan Mishra Commission had submitted that scheduled caste status should be delinked from religion as is the case with scheduled tribes. However, it is ironic that 14 years later the state government was found to use religion as a premise for granting OBC status overlooking other parameters of socio-economic backwardness. 

Incidentally, the day Bhattacharjee had accepted the commission’s recommendations was also the same day that Andhra Pradesh High Court had cancelled a state law providing 4% reservation in educational institutions and jobs to 15 Muslim communities citing that it was “unsustainable” and the grounds for classification of these groups as OBC was “unscientific”, in the same tone as May 22 judgment of the Calcutta High Court. 

What becomes painfully obvious in these instances is that the states must guard against looking at these provisions as mechanisms for garnering votes and must instead go about it in a constitutional manner because otherwise all this amounts to further polarisation on the basis of religious identities. The very idea of protective discrimination is in place to help create a just and more equitable society. Using these provisions arbitrarily can act counterintuitive to the goals enshrined in the Constitution of India. 

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