The Supreme Court on 15 November quashed the Rajasthan state government’s demand of increasing the OBC reservation to more than 50% for the Gujjars in the state. The apex court was hearing a a Special Leave Petition filed by the Rajasthan government challenging the state High Court’s decision that stayed the new legislation. A petition was filed by MLA Ganga Sahay Sharma on 7 November that challenged the government’s decision to increase the quota, as reported by The Times of India.
On 26 October, the Rajasthan Assembly passed a bill that increased the OBC reservation from 21% in the state to 26%. The community includes Gujjars and four other castes.
This bill was tabled during the monsoon session of the assembly amidst the widespread protests staged by the Gujjar community who were demanding reservation under the Backward Classes. There have been multiple protests across Rajasthan demanding reservation over the past few years.
Rajasthan now has an OBC reservation of 54% which defies the Supreme Court directions of 50%.
The Backward Classes (Reservation of Seats in Educational Institutions in the State and Appointment and Posts in Services under the State) Bill, 2017, seeks to provide 5 per cent reservation to the five “most backward” OBC communities: Banjara, Gadiya Lohar, Gujjar, Raika and Gadariya caste.
Gujjar agitation- a look back
The protests started in May 2008 because the police had opened fire on a person belonging to Gujjar caste – he was demanding a higher Scheduled Tribe status to their current OBC (Other Backward Class) status.
Violence ensued as the protesters lynched a policeman in the Bharatpur district of Rajasthan. The police shot at the protesters as they were vandalising public property. At least 15 were killed on the spot. Around 72 Gujjars have so far died in the quota agitation.
The Indian Army was called to tackle the situation – railways; roads were blocked by the protestors. Vexed with the government for not meeting their demand of a 5% quota for government jobs, Gujjars decided to go back to protests in 2010. They jammed trains on the Jaipur-Delhi and Mumbai-Delhi routes, but there was no violence like the previous time.
In May 2015, again a protest was organised by the Gujjars and over thousands blocked railway tracks halting train traffic.
The government’s appeasement
The Rajasthan government’s Special Backward Class Act, 2015 intended to provide 5% reservation to these castes and 14% to Economically Backward Class (EBC) which amounted to over 50% reservation.
But the Rajasthan High Court had struck down that bill pointing out flaws in the government’s manner to provide reservation. Rajasthan faces elections in a little over a year from now.
The government then put these castes back into the OBC list instead of the Special Backward Class group.
A similar incident had taken place in 2008 when the Vasundhara Raje government had come under the pressure of Gujjars agitation in Rajasthan and granted 5 per cent reservation to Gujjars as part of Special Backward Classes, and another 14 per cent to Economically Backward Classes.
However, it was stayed by the high court in 2009 when the succeeding Ashok Gehlot government tried to implement it.
There is an opposition of the bill even from BJP leaders questioning its validity. BJP MLA Prahlad Gunjal said to The Indian Express, “I have been an MLA whenever the Bill (for reservation to Gujjars and other castes) was passed by this House, but it is unfortunate that we have not been able to ensure justice to these castes. This time, the Bill is merely an eyewash.” He said there was no need to bring a Bill as reservation could have been extended by issuing a notification.
Under the new arrangement, there will be no SBC quota, just OBC and ‘Most OBC’ categories.
The government sources have reportedly told The Times of India that the increase in the OBC quota is in proportion to the rise of the OBC population in the state. Other states like Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Odisha also have more than 50 percent quota.