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Evaluating the Constitutional Legitimacy of EWS Reservations: An Analysis of India's 103rd Constitutional Amendment

Reservations based on economic criteria are crucial for ensuring equitable opportunities in society, particularly in a country like India where economic disparities persist alongside social inequalities. While caste-based reservations have been instrumental in addressing social injustices, they often fail to address economic disparities effectively. The introduction of reservations based on economic status aims to rectify this imbalance by providing opportunities to those genuinely disadvantaged by financial constraints, irrespective of caste or background.

This approach promotes meritocracy and targets poverty alleviation efforts, contributing to overall economic development. However, the implementation of such reservations necessitates a comprehensive understanding of the basic structure doctrine and its implications for constitutional amendments. The principle of equality, rooted in fair and reasonable classification, underpins the rationale behind economic-based reservations. Ensuring substantive equality requires on going efforts to eliminate inequalities in all forms, with affirmative action serving as a crucial tool in this endeavour. Overall, reservations based on economic criteria represent a significant step towards fostering inclusive growth and addressing multifaceted challenges of inequality in society.

"Liberty, Equality, Fraternity" was the battle cry of the French Revolution and the very motto of our Indian Constitution.

The constitutional validity of reservations for Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) in India has become a focal point of debate within the nation's legal and social spheres. Enacted in 2019 through the 103rd Constitutional Amendment Act, these reservations aim to mitigate economic inequality by offering educational and employment opportunities to those from financially disadvantaged backgrounds. However, this initiative has stirred controversy regarding its compatibility with the foundational principles of equality outlined in the Indian Constitution.

Critics argue that focusing solely on economic criteria may dilute the original purpose of reservations, which were intended to uplift historically marginalized groups. Conversely, supporters contend that including economic status alongside social factors is crucial for ensuring fair access to opportunities. Despite the Supreme Court's endorsement of the constitutional validity of EWS reservations, on-going deliberations and potential legal disputes highlight the intricate balance required to uphold both social justice goals and economic inclusivity within India's constitutional framework.

Furthermore reservations should be provided on economic grounds in order to solve India's underlying problem of economic inequity. It won't be wrong to state that a tiny number of people wield tremendous economic influence in the country, while the public sector has created fewer employment. Caste-based reservations create fierce rivalry for the general category, and people who need quotas the most often do not benefit from them.

Furthermore, economic reservations can provide both positive discrimination and equal opportunity, citing poverty as a major issue affecting the economically and socially excluded. To establish the validity of economic-based reservations, there are certain constitutional provisions such as Articles 15, 29, 46, and 341. Thus reservations were originally intended to uplift people economically, making the 103rd Constitutional Amendment constitutional.

Research Methodology
The information presented in this article was sourced from secondary sources relevant to the topic. This study is characterized as conceptual, empirically supported, descriptive, and diagnostic. Secondary research, also known as desk research, involves the use of pre-existing data. To enhance the study's overall effectiveness, existing data must be gathered and organized. Secondary research refers to studies that have already been conducted, published, and referenced in research reports and similar publications. It often involves utilizing sources such as the internet, libraries, archives, universities, and other information repositories to collect data.

Review of Literature
The new Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) Quota: The changing idea of affirmative action (Observer Research Foundation, 2022)1 This article discusses the EWS quota in the context of affirmative action in India. It explores the rationale behind the quota and the challenges it poses.

Reservation for Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) - Understand the 10% Quota Bill (ClearIAS, 2019)2 This article provides a basic overview of the EWS reservation system in India. It explains the concept of EWS and the provisions of the quota bill.

EWS Reservation - Supreme Court Observer (Supreme Court Observer, 2022)3 This article discusses the legal aspects of the EWS reservation. It explains the constitutional amendment that introduced the quota and the Supreme Court's ruling on its validity.

Method of study:
  • Reservations in India
    The historical trajectory of the reservation system in India dates back to the colonial era but gained significant momentum post-independence. Initially introduced by the British colonial administration to address the under-representation of certain communities, particularly in education and government employment, reservations were further institutionalized through the Indian Constitution.

    The inception of the Indian reservation system in the pre-Independence era can be traced back to significant legislative developments such as the Government of India Act, 19354, and the Poona Pact, 1932. Dr. B.R. Ambedkar's advocacy for separate elections for underprivileged classes prompted discussions during the Government of India Act of 1919 to address minority challenges. Following India's independence in 1947, the Constituent Assembly formed a Drafting Committee led by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar to formulate a new constitution. This initiative aimed to promote social justice for all racial and socioeconomic groups, aligning with the principles outlined in Article 46 of the Directive Principles of State Policy.

    Over the years, the reservation system has undergone several amendments and expansions. The Mandal Commission report in the 1980s played a pivotal role in extending reservations to include OBCs, recognizing the socio-economic disadvantages faced by this group. Subsequently, reservations were implemented in educational institutions and government jobs for OBCs, along with existing provisions for SCs and STs.

    The reservation system has been a subject of intense debate and controversy, with arguments both for and against its continuation. Proponents argue that reservations have been instrumental in empowering historically marginalized communities, providing them with access to opportunities and facilitating social mobility. Critics, however, raise concerns about its impact on meritocracy, efficiency, and social cohesion, as well as the perpetuation of caste-based identities.

    Despite these debates, reservations remain a fundamental aspect of India's social and political landscape, reflecting the country's commitment to addressing historical injustices and promoting inclusive development. Various governments have introduced policies and initiatives to strengthen the implementation of reservations and expand their reach to ensure equitable representation and opportunities for all sections of society.
  • Statement of Problem:
    The issue at hand revolves around the classification of backwardness for the purpose of reservations in India. Specifically, the concern is whether backwardness can be determined solely based on occupation and income without considering caste. This question arises from recent legal cases and the 103rd constitutional amendment that have introduced economic criteria for reservation eligibility, challenging the traditional reliance on caste as the primary determinant of backwardness. The problem necessitates a nuanced understanding of socioeconomic dynamics and the implications of different criteria for identifying disadvantaged groups in society.
  • Reservations on the Basis of Economic Criteria and it's Importance
    "The solution to every issue is to strike it at its roots and the root problem behind the stagnant growth of any country is the parity in the economic status between rich and poor"

    India is still in the process of development, with a limited portion of the population holding significant economic influence. The dominance of the private sector has reduced opportunities in the public sector, resulting in heightened competition, particularly affecting the general category due to caste-based reservations. Implementing reservations based on economic criteria is crucial for ensuring equitable opportunities in society.

    While caste-based reservations have been a tool for social justice, they often do not address the economic disparities prevalent among different communities. By introducing reservations based on economic status, the focus shifts towards uplifting those who are genuinely disadvantaged due to financial constraints.

    This approach ensures that individuals facing economic hardship, regardless of their caste or background, have access to educational and employment opportunities. It also promotes meritocracy by providing a level playing field for all individuals, regardless of their social or economic background. Moreover, economic-based reservations can effectively target poverty alleviation efforts, helping to break the cycle of Inter-generational poverty and promote overall economic development. Interestingly, those who could benefit from these reservations often don't utilize them, while those with resources often succeed regardless.

    To ensure fairness in opportunity distribution and upliftment of the underprivileged, implementing economic measures becomes imperative. Large conglomerates wield considerable control over various industries, concentrating social and economic power within a small segment of society. Therefore, incorporating economic criteria into reservation policies is essential for fostering inclusive growth and addressing the multifaceted challenges of inequality in society.

    Additionally, poverty, with its social and economic implications, requires urgent attention, especially for those facing economic hardship. ―According to the UNDP Report 2018, India decreased poverty across all dimensions from 54.7% to 27.5% of the population between 2005/2006 and 2015/2016‖5. This was only possible because of the Supreme Court ruling in

    Indra Sawhney v. Union of India 6, the Mandal Commission Report restricted the allocation of seats in educational and government jobs to the ST (Scheduled Tribes), SC (Scheduled Castes), and OBC (Other Backward Classes), which together made up about 70% of India's total population.

    In comparison to other groups in society, more members of the poor socioeconomic classes — SCs, STs, and OBCs — were lifted out of poverty between 2004– 2005 and 2011–2012, according to statistics given by the Planning Commission.
  • The correlation between Caste and Backward Class
    The connection between caste and economic status underscores the complex and deeply entrenched nature of social inequality in India, which requires multifaceted approaches to address effectively.

    Caste-related bias and exclusion have played a significant role in rendering specific communities economically vulnerable, as they encounter obstacles in accessing resources and opportunities. The resultant disparities in education and employment frequently result in diminished incomes and constrained economic prospects for individuals from marginalized castes. Similarly, economically disadvantaged segments of society in India often confront widespread economic discrimination, evident across multiple facets of life. These marginalized groups frequently encounter obstacles when seeking essential needs, educational access, healthcare services, and employment opportunities.

    The Constitution of India specifies that reservations can be based on caste or class, with the latter being established as a distinct category before implementing reservation on economic grounds, as per the 103rd Constitutional Amendment. According to Max Weber's sociological concept, a class is defined by comparable socioeconomic status, encompassing similar life opportunities, prestige, attitudes, etc. The recent amendment sets economic criteria for eligibility, requiring an annual income below 8 lakhs and land ownership under five acres. This defines economically weaker sections as a distinct class.

    In the Ashoka Kumar Thakur v. Union of India 7 case, the Supreme Court upheld the validity of reservations, emphasizing that backwardness cannot be solely determined by caste but considers various factors, as affirmed in the "R. Chitralekha v. State of Mysore"8 case. It's recognized that occupation and income can denote backwardness irrespective of caste, as seen in groups like agricultural laborers, rickshaw drivers, and street vendors, who are inherently disadvantaged regardless of caste affiliation.
  • Extent of Reservation for Economically
    Weaker Sections and its Legitimacy Regarding Exclusion of Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Other Backward Classes, and Socially and Economically Backward Classes:-
    The intention behind implementing reservations for Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) is to offer affirmative action to socioeconomically disadvantaged segments of society.

    However, the inclusion of EWS reservations does not negate the reservations already in place for Scheduled Castes (SC), Scheduled Tribes (ST), Other Backward Classes (OBC), and socially and economically backward classes. India's reservation policies are designed to rectify historical disparities and provide opportunities for communities that have long faced social and economic marginalization. Reservations for SC, ST, OBC, and other backward classes are rooted in the social and educational disadvantages experienced by these groups, and they are safeguarded by the Indian Constitution and supported by legal statutes and judicial rulings.

    The introduction of EWS reservations does not eliminate or supplant the existing reservations for these groups. Instead, EWS reservations aim to address economic inequalities experienced by individuals from all communities, including the general category, who meet specified income and asset criteria.

    The Supreme Court of India has affirmed the validity of EWS reservations in various rulings, such as in the case of Janhit Abhiyan vs. Union of India (2019), where the court upheld the constitutionality of the 103rd Constitutional Amendment Act and the implementation of EWS reservations, stating that it was a legitimate exercise of Parliament's authority to uplift socially and educationally backward classes as outlined in Articles 15 and 16.
  • Constitutional Facets for the Reservation of Economically Weaker sections:
    The constitutional dimensions concerning reservations for economically disadvantaged segments entail various facets.

    Various constitutional provisions, including ―Articles 15, 29, 46, and 341‖9, earnestly aim to uplift the social well-being of marginalized sections and recognize the existence of backward classes in India. The 103rd Amendment Act represents a sincere endeavour to alleviate the challenges faced by individuals hindered by their economic circumstances. However, historical deliberations during the Constitutional Assembly's discussions on the First Amendment Act of 1951 highlight that the definition of backwardness was initially aligned with Article 340(1), indicating a broader understanding beyond mere economic factors. Despite recognizing the significance of economic backwardness in identifying socially and educationally backward classes, the term "economically" was omitted from Article 15(4).

    In the K.C. Vasanth Kumar v. State of Karnataka10 case, the Supreme Court deliberated on the characteristics of lower social strata, at the behest of the Karnataka government seeking guidance on establishing rules for a Commission's duties. While each judge offered distinct perspectives, a closer analysis reveals unanimous agreement on the pivotal role of economic criteria in determining backwardness. Justice Chandrachud underscored the importance of considering two criteria: comparability with Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in terms of backwardness, and passing the means test established by the State Government to assess current economic backwardness.
  • EWS Reservations and The Basic Structure Doctrine:
    Originating from the pivotal case of Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala (1973)11, the Supreme Court ruled that while Parliament possesses the authority to amend the Constitution, it is restricted from altering its basic structure. This doctrine serves as a safeguard, ensuring that the core essence of the Constitution, envisioned by its creators, remains preserved despite potential alterations over time.
Before exploring the concepts of equality and reservation, it's imperative to thoroughly comprehend the basic structure doctrine and its application to constitutional amendments. This involves examining the essential elements of the doctrine as previously established and applied, along with the guiding principles relevant to the specific amendment under consideration. The authority granted by Article 368 to amend the Constitution has been a significant aspect of constitutional law in India.

This power, considered as a constituent power, is subject to various safeguards outlined in Article 368, including procedural safeguards, which have led to several significant changes, some of which have been contentious. Notably, the theory of basic structure was not deliberated upon in the Constituent Assembly during the formulation of mechanisms for amending the Constitution.

An amendment to the constitution may be overturned only if it has the potential to change the constitution's identity or violates the basic structure doctrine. In the case of Janhit Abhiyan vs. Union of India and Others12, The argument presented refuted the petitioners' claim that the challenged amendments fundamentally alter the Constitution's core structure.

It was suggested that to successfully challenge a constitutional amendment, it must be proven that the essence of the Constitution itself has undergone a transformation. It was contended that a mere modification to a constitutional article, even if it involves a fundamental aspect, does not necessarily violate the basic feature.

The assertion was made that the newly introduced provisions, specifically Articles 15(6) and 16(6), serve as enabling mechanisms for the advancement of economically disadvantaged sections. Furthermore, it was argued that these provisions align with the principles of reservation and affirmative action, which serve as pillars for safeguarding equality among citizens, as outlined in Articles 15(1), 15(2), 16(1), and 16(2).

In simple terms, the principle of equality can be summarized as treating equals equally and addressing the unequal differently. To apply this principle in practice, we need to distinguish between those who are similar and should be treated equally and those who are different and may require different treatment. This process is known as fair, just, and reasonable classification. Therefore, the reservation introduced by the 103rd Constitutional Amendment is based on such reasonable classification.

Moreover, ensuring genuine and meaningful equality in a diverse society requires ongoing efforts to eliminate inequalities wherever they exist and in whatever form they manifest. This responsibility falls on the state, which is tasked with affirmative action. One legally recognized form of affirmative action is compensatory discrimination, which aims to reduce discrimination initially and ultimately eradicate it, thereby achieving true and substantive equality. This has led to the implementation of reservation and quota systems in state activities.

In summary, the introduction of reservations for Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) in India marks a crucial milestone in tackling socioeconomic disparities and fostering inclusive development. Enacted via the 103rd Constitutional Amendment Act, this policy initiative aims to offer affirmative action to economically disadvantaged individuals within the general category, complementing existing reservations for Scheduled Castes (SC), Scheduled Tribes (ST), and Other Backward Classes (OBC).

This study, employing a blend of quantitative and qualitative research methodologies, has scrutinized the justification, implementation hurdles, and potential ramifications of EWS reservations. The examination underscores the significance of adopting a just and equitable classification system based on economic parameters to ensure fair opportunities for all societal segments. Additionally, it underscores the imperative for holistic strategies to confront the multifaceted obstacles of poverty, education, and employment confronted by economically marginalized groups.

While EWS reservations signify a substantial policy intervention, their effectiveness hinges on robust implementation mechanisms, inclusive stakeholder engagements, and periodic assessments to gauge their impact on socioeconomic metrics. Ultimately, the efficacy of EWS reservations in India lies in their capacity to foster social cohesion, diminish economic disparities, and cultivate a more equitable society for forthcoming generations.

  1. Ambar Kumar Ghosh, The new Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) Quota: The changing idea of an affirmative action, Observer Research Foundation (April 15, 2024, 5.20 p.m),
  2. Alex Andrew George, Reservation for Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) - Understand the 10% Quota Bill, Clear IAS (April 15, 2024, 5.34 p.m),
  3. EWS Reservation, Supreme Court Observer (April 15, 2024, 5.39 p.m),
  4. The Government of India Act, 1935
  5. UNDP India Report 2018 Multidimensional Poverty Index, available at (accessed on 15-04-23)
  6. 1992 Supp (3) SCC 217
  7. Ashoka Kumar Thakur v. Union of India (2008) 6 SCC 1
  8. R. Chitralekha v. State of Mysore AIR 1964 1823
  9. INDIA CONST. art. 15, 29, 46, 341
  10. K.C. Vasanth Kumar v. State of Karnataka, 1985 Supp SCC 714
  11. Keshavananda Bharti v. State of Kerala, AIR 1973 4 SCC 225
  12. Janhit Abhiyan v. Union of India, WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) NO(S). 55 OF 2019

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