Why Tamil Nadu resists an increase in OBC creamy layer income limit

The creamy layer concept came up for discussion for the first time in 1970 during the deliberations of Sattanathan Commission

reservation
Karunanidhi's successor MG Ramachandran tried to implement the creamy layer concept and fixed an income ceiling of ₹9,000 | Representative Photo: iStock

The Union government’s proposal to increase the creamy layer income limit has met with strong resistance in Tamil Nadu, that pioneered the concept of reservation in jobs for Other Backward Classes (OBCs).

The state’s Chief Minister, Edappadi K. Palaniswami, on Wednesday (July 8) wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, asking him to continue the existing policy of determining the OBC creamy layer by excluding agriculture and salary income.

A number of other social organisations and activists have opined that the concept of creamy layer itself should be abolished as the move shifts the concept of reservation from social justice to economic justice.

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The creamy layer concept came up for discussion for the first time in 1970 during the deliberations of Sattanathan Commission, set up by the then chief minister, M Karunanidhi. The Commission had suggested that the government “may consider removing affluent class within the backward castes,” who were found benefitting largely from reservation than any other backward castes.

The government did not consider its recommendations and instead increased the reservation limit from 25 to 31 per cent.

Karunanidhi’s successor MG Ramachandran tried to implement the creamy layer concept and fixed an income ceiling of ₹9,000. It cost him in the 1980 Lok Sabha elections. In order to calm down the political storm, he further hiked the reservation limit for Other Backward Castes from 31 to 50 per cent.

In 1992, the term found its mention when a nine member bench heard the Indra Sawhney case following unraveling of the Mandal Commission report.

Related news: Centre proposes to apply OBC reservation in all-India medical seats

The court upheld the 27 per cent reservation for the OBCs, but also made an observation, which many activists consider as unnecessary to the original case. In their view, ‘creamy layer’ meant those who are socially and educationally advanced among the OBCs and they must be kept out of the purview of reservation, but was interpreted by the courts as ‘economically advanced’.

When it was implemented in 1993, the Centre fixed a cap of annual income at ₹1 lakh. It was later increased to ₹6 lakh in 2013 and in 2017, it was increased to ₹8 lakh.

At present, while deciding the OBC criteria, the government only takes into consideration revenue from companies or rent. It does not include the income from agriculture or salary income of the parents.

The concept of creamy layer is literally non existent in Tamil Nadu as the OBC certificate is enough to get a job or a seat in a government college.

Reservation is not poverty alleviation

In a fresh move, the Centre has proposed including agricultural and salary income in the creamy layer criteria and enhanced the income cap to ₹12 lakh.

“Superficially, it may look like a great move since the income ceiling is proposed to be enhanced to ₹12 lakh. Claiming that the move will benefit rural OBCs is illogical and against the spirit of social justice. One must understand that reservation is not a poverty alleviation scheme. The government should only consider the social and educational backwardness and not economical backwardness” says G. Karunanidhy, general secretary, All India Federation of OBC Employees Welfare Association.

The definition of backward classes is not based on economic backwardness but by caste. By birth, whether they are rich or poor, they were denied right to education, he believes.

Karunanidhy feels, the department of personnel and training (DoPT) has initiated an unilateral move. It has not consulted with the law ministry or the National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC) or the Parliamentary committee for OBC. The social justice ministry, instead of considering OBC committee, has constituted a separate committee headed by BP Sharma, former secretary of DoPT, added Karunanidhy.

Related news: At loggerheads with Centre over medical seats, TN now calls out court musings

He says the issue needs to be looked from the point of social status and empowerment. Financial status, he says should not be the criteria.

“If you look at the DoPT data, the OBCs in the top echelons are just one per cent and even zero in many ministries as secretaries or joint secretaries. Till date, there has been no OBC candidate who has occupied the post of Cabinet Secretary. The adequate reservation in backward classes has not been achieved in many departments even now,” said Karunanidhy.

Viduthalai Rajendran, general secretary, Dravidar Viduthalai Kazhagam says that excluding creamy layer can be justified when they are educationally advanced for at least for three generations.

“But saying that they are earning so much and must be excluded from reservation is baseless. An OBC candidate was unable to study not because of his/her economic condition but due to the caste,” he said.

Even in the existing 27 per cent reservation, only eight to 10 per cent seats are filled. The Centre tries to filter even that share by including agriculture and salary income, added Rajendran.

“This will have two effects. One, the OBCs will suffer more. Two, the remaining seats will be moved to open competition and people who come under Economically Weaker Sections will gain more,” he said.

How NCBC failed the OBCs?

Dr. S. Ramadoss, founder, Pattali Makkal Katchi, who sought separate reservation for Most Backward Classes (MBCs), in a letter, has accused the National Commission for Backward Classes, or NCBC, of failing the OBCs by agreeing to Sharma Committee recommendations on revising the creamy layer criteria.

He says that the Centre’s proposal on revising the criteria was announced in February 2020. The NCBC had opposed the move through a letter in March 2020. However, for reasons unknown it has now gone back on its earlier stand.

“In 2011, Manmohan Singh government had sought the opinion of NCBC whether Jat community could be included in the list of OBCs. The NCBC rejected the recommendation saying that Jats were not a socially backward community. The government ignored this objection and declared them as OBCs in 2014. The matter went to the court. The court accepted the stand of NCBC and declared the government order null and void in 2015. This is a classic example of how the NCBC should function. NCBC has enough powers to reject the proposal of the Centre, but it has failed,” says Ramadoss.

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