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Volume XLIV, No.48

The Creamy Layer

by Surendra Mohan

Tuesday 24 April 2007

The concept of creamy layer was introduced by the Supreme Court in its judgment delivered in 1992, when it declared the amendment introduced by Parliament in the executive order issued by the National Front Government in 1990, as invalid. The amendment was made to help the poorer sections among the forward castes and some reservation was made for them. It also wanted to prioritise reservations among the other backward castes (OBCs) on an economic basis. The Court held that the Constitution had laid down the principle of reservations for the socially and educationally backward castes, and the introduction of criteria other than social and educational, such as economic or any other, was unconstitutional. But, when it introduced the creamy layer, it fell into the same error of applying the economic criteria.

It is forgotten that most elite positions of power and pelf in our society are monopolised by the creamy layers among the forward castes: that is, the creamiest of the creamy layer constituted by the forward castes. They are not prepared to bow to the principle of social justice because that might lead to some empowerment of other sections and, to that extent, some shift of power from them. This is unthinkable. Unfortunately, no social surveys have been made to determine the proportion of the SEBCs in the creamy layer. But, now, the Supreme Court has applied this principle of creamy layer to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. It would be easily recognised that no one from among these most oppressed social segments has entered big business or even medium business, and the number of highly paid professionals among them is insignificant.

Even among the Other Backward Castes, no one from the northern States has made the grade as far as big or medium business is concerned. In the southern States, there are a few medium businessmen, and that is all. However, they have made intelligent use of their numbers, have consolidated themselves politically and had started to share power. In the South, this trend started earlier, but in the North too, after 1977, they have become stakeholders in the political process. Reservation in employment had started in the southern States and in Maharashtra from the 1960s and therefore a significant number had joined government jobs. Yet, in respect of their proportion vis-à-vis the forward castes, they could not claim even 10 per cent of the total even in that category. Owing to land reforms in Uttar Pradesh, in particular, a large number among them have become peasant proprietors of medium-sized holdings. It was indeed illogical, nevertheless, to impose the concept of creamy layer on them, in view of these developments.

Till 1992, that is, till after the Supreme Court judgment validating the National Front Government’s executive order, the number of the OBCs in Class 1 and Class 2 jobs in the Central services was insignificant. In a system where the bureaucracy is as powerful as in our system, economic benefits also flow from it and, hence, the forward castes were making hay while the sun of high administrative offices shone on them. The quota-permit raj was a further guarantee for it. As everyone knows, the 27 per cent quota is far from being filled by the OBCs. Not even one-fourth of it is in higher services. If this is the condition of the land-owning, upwardly mobile OBCs, then one can easily imagine the skewed nature of the presence of the SC/STs in the higher echelons of the bureaucracy, even though they were enjoying the fruits of reservations since after 1952. At that time, the quota reserved for them was 7.5 per cent, and it was raised to 15 per cent in the 1960s. The quota increased to the same proportion as their population in the 1970s. The time-frame of thirty years has only brought a very small percentage of these social segments in higher government employment.

Why is it then that the creamy layer concept is being applied not only to the OBCs but to the SC/STs as well? The forward castes are not at all willing that they lose even the small crumbs in the administrative power structure. The creamy layer principle, if applied, will make public employment and higher education impossible for those sections from among the SEBCs who can qualify for benefiting from reservations, while the vast majority, unlettered or with small education, will obviously be incapable to enjoy its fruits. In point of fact, this principle or any other condition which scuttles the benefit of reservations must not operate till the reserved quota has been exhausted. This is quite far from being the case.

The criticism from those favouring such restrictions is based on the premise that only a few upper groups among the SEBCs continue to garner all the advantages of reservations. One might ask them who or which section among the forward castes gets into higher government jobs and who succeed the propertied scions of big business? As for the second, the iron rule of inheritance decides it, and the male children of the rich become rich ipso facto by being their inheritors. As for the former, that is, higher administrative jobs, practice has shown that the children of the IFS qualify in that service and so on and so forth. It would be instructive to just make out a list of our Foreign Secretaries and Cabinet Secretaries to realise that. In respect of political offices, too, the established trend is to respect heredity. This is so for all castes and communities.

That being the reality, why begrudge the rule of heredity in respect of the SEBCs? Nevertheless, the spread of education and the power of the ballot are expanding the universe of the sharing of opportunities among them. The number of those getting higher education, including vocational one, is much higher than those in higher public employment. Thus, a larger number than the number of children of the upper crust of the SEBCs claim to such opportunities. This can be empirically demonstrated quite easily. A simple fact is that an ever larger number from among these social segments join the competitive examinations. They come from the first generation of educated parents who had had some small share in prosperity or power structure. It is unfair to compare them with the established families of the super rich or highly qualified professionals of the forward castes.

An application of the creamy layer principle on the forward castes would be amply justified to enable the lower middle classes to achieve vertical mobility and help expand the circle of those sharing in the national wealth and the ever increasing number of big and petty officers. Any such rule will, however, be most resolutely opposed by the elite which is so keen on applying it to the OBCs, and even the SC/STs. When the leaders of the social and power structures are willing to allow their wives and daughters due representation in the legislatures, leading to a share in political power, their lust for all the privileges in society can be easily imagined. While the blame for the non-adoption by Parliament of the Women’s Representation Bill is put at the door of a Sharad Yadav, a Laloo Yadav or the Smajwadi Party, no one cares to explain why a large majority in Parliament constituted by the Congress party, the BJP and the Left parties does not collectively push ahead and get Parliament to pass it.

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