Expert Committee Report Summary (Union Government)OBC & EWS Reservation in Postgraduate Medical Admissions
On December 1st, 2021, the Union Government constituted an Expert Committee to review the Rs. 8 Lakhs annual income limit for reservations under the Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) category. The Committee comprised Former Finance Secretary Ajay Bhushan Pandey, ICSSR Member-Secretary Prof. V.K. Malhotra, and the Union Government’s Principal Economic Advisor Sanjay Sanyal. The findings of this Committee were crucial for the government to be able to expeditiously conduct Postgraduate (PG) admissions in medical programmes, and solve the problem of staff shortage at hospitals across the country.
Three weeks later, the Committee submitted a report finding that the Rs. 8 Lakhs income criteria should be retained. It recommended, however, that the criteria of excluding candidates from the EWS category based on their family residential assets must be removed. The Committee also recommended that the pending Post-Graduate (PG) admissions in medical programmes should be completed in keeping with the old EWS criteria. It observed that any changes at such a late stage would cause further confusion and delays. The Union government filed an affidavit before the Supreme Court accepting all these recommendations on December 31st, 2021.
Committee Responds to Chandrachud J’s Questions About Income Limit
First, the Bench had asked the Union government to review whether the Rs. 8 Lakhs limit set the income bracket too high, allowing those who were not in economic distress to also avail reservation benefits. To answer this question, the Committee conducted a review of EWS reservations based on a Rs. 8 lakhs limit in UPSC examinations from 2019. It found that a majority of the beneficiaries of the reservation scheme were not ‘bunched up’ at the upper end of the income limit, indicating that the limit was not being used only by candidates who were relatively better placed economically.
Second, the Bench had directed the government to specify that the EWS income limit was not reached by blindly replicating the income limit for excluding ‘creamy layer’ OBC candidates. The creamy layer income limit indicated the level of economic advancement required to ‘overcome’ social backwardness. The Bench had cautioned that it would be arbitrary to apply the same metric to determine economic weakness for a class that was not socially backward. The Committee reported that even though the income limit of Rs. 8 Lakhs was the same for both groups, it was calculated differently. Many more sources of income are included while calculating EWS status than for creamy layer analysis. Therefore, the income limit for creamy layer had not been blindly replicated for EWS.
Third, the Bench had asked why differences in purchasing power and the value of residential assets between rural and urban areas and between different states had not been accounted for while coming up with the income criteria. The Committee recommended that a uniform criteria was preferable, since it would be easier to implement. It would also not cause problems for applicants who move between states, or families whose members live in different parts of the country.