The Constitution (One Hundred and Twenty-Fourth Amendment) Bill, 2019, was introduced in the Lok Sabha on January 08, 2019, with an aim to provide reservation in higher education and public employment to ‘economically weaker sections’ of the society. The Bill was passed within the Lower House of the Parliament with only three members voting against it out of the 326 members present and voting, and subsequently being passed by Rajya Sabha as well without any recommendations. On being approved by both the Houses of the Parliament, when the President of India gave his assent to the Bill, the Constitution (One Hundred and Third Amendment) Act, 2019, came into force with effect from January 14, 2019 as notified within the official gazette by the Central Government.
This hurried passage of the amendment has raised certain doubts on the intentions of the govt. , questioning the democratic accountability. However, this Article does not delve into the political issue of the amendment and will be limited to the discussions on the legal perspective, critically analyzing the provision as to whether it is constitutionally valid.
The amendment to Article 15 of the Constitution relates to advancement of economically weaker sections of the citizens and their reservation for admission to educational institutions, whereas Clause 6 of Article 16 relates to reservation of economically weaker sections just in case of public employments. The explanation appended to the amended Article provides for the meaning of “economically weaker sections” which shall be decided by the State as per need and choice on the idea of “family income” and “other indicators of economic disadvantage”. It is pertinent to note that the reservations made for the economically weaker sections would be to a maximum limit of ten percent, in addition to the prevalent reservations given under the Articles of constitution and would also eliminate the group of people who have already benefited by the previous clauses of the Articles.
The Constitutional 103rd Amendment has been challenged by way of a petition filed in the Supreme Court by a non-governmental organization named Youth for Equality and several others, on the ground that the amendment violates the essential structure of the Constitution and it exceeds the capping of one-half as fixed for reservations by the Apex Court. It is argued that the 103rd amendment is in violation of the basic structure of constitution because there is a contradiction in the logic of the existing provisions of Article 15 and 16 and the amended provisions. Moreover, the amendment provides for a one-tenth economic reservation over and above the prevailing reservations, which means that the reservation would exceed the 50 percent capping as set up by judicial precedents, because this status of reservation quota has already reached 50 percent. Another argument of challenging the constitutionality of the amendment is that of arbitrariness. The definition of “economically weaker sections” is arbitrary in the sense that it does not specifically provide as to what constitutes ‘other indicators of economic disadvantage’ and the definition is left to be decided by the State as per their choice.
The framers of the Indian Constitution had kept in mind the kind of state of affairs prevalent in the society that adversely affected the equality of the country. There were a large number of under-privileged sections of people who experienced social discrimination through centuries under the garb of caste system and the members of such so-called lower classes required an adequate representation in the society. Efforts had, thus, been made to bring these weaker sections at par with the other sections of the society through the policy of reservations, which is considered as a positive or protective discrimination implemented in the Constitution. With the changing times, caste not is often the only criterion for detecting socially backward classes because a number of them have achieved economic status, thereby finding a social standing as well. The Government has thus by means of economic reservations taken a breakthrough to eradicate this type of discrimination as a way to achieving equality within the nation.