Why 10% ‘upper caste reservation’ misses the point

The move could soften upper caste sentiments towards the BJP

The cabinet is reported to have approved a move to seek 10% reservation in jobs and educational institutions for all those castes and communities that currently do not get such reservations.

The government will create a law to raise the upper ceiling of reserved seats from 50% of the total to 60% of the total.

The bill is likely to be tabled in the parliament in a day or two, and is likely to be of the nature of a constitutional amendment.

The 50% ceiling on reservations has been imposed by the judiciary.

According to reports, the ‘upper caste’ reservation will be restricted to candidates whose income levels are below Rs 8 lakh per year.

It will be similar to OBC reservations, which are also restricted to those with income of less than Rs 8 lakhs per year.


Reservations in India have a long history.

They are expected to have originated about 4,000 years ago, when certain jobs were reserved for certain jatis or tribes.

For example, all work involving learning, knowledge, worship and so on were reserved for Brahmins, the duty of the soldier and ruler was reserved for Kshatriyas and trading was handed over to Baniyas or Vaishyas.

The above three groups broadly comprise the ‘upper castes’ of today.

Due to the above reservation, the representation of the other segments, termed Bahujans or the majority community, was negligible in India’s instruments of governance.

The makers of the Constitution, therefore, wanted to ensure a minimum participation of such missing groups in the process of government. It was feared that a government comprising only of upper caste functionaries may not give due consideration to the interests of the majority.

As such, a certain portion of the government jobs and seats in higher educational institutions were set apart for ‘non upper castes’.

The intent was to ensure a more balanced representation in government and prevent bias.


However, most ordinary people in India think that reservations are extended to certain castes and communities to ensure that they ‘get jobs’ and a livelihood.

This is partly because most, if not all, of the communities that have been given reservations also have low income levels.

This popular misconception, in which reservation is linked to income levels and poverty, has also led to considerable opposition for reservation for comparatively well-off groups like Patels.

People oppose reservations for such groups arguing that they are not poor.

However, the stated purpose of reservation is not to provide livelihoods, but to ensure representation of a community in the process of governance.

If a community is chronically underrepresented in the instruments of governance, there is a high likelihood that its interests will come to be overlooked, no matter how rich its members are.

It is in this context that groups like Patels demand, and perhaps deserve, reservation even if they are rich.

This raises the thorny question of whether groups that are over-represented in the government service — as most upper caste groups are — should have seats reserved especially for them.

Has the government done any survey to find out if poor people are under-represented in government service?

If they are, do they risk having their rights and interests systematically subverted by the rich using the instruments of government?

Finally, how effective can government jobs be as an anti-poverty measure? Should the poor of the country be given some kind of monetary support instead?

The justification given by the Narendra Modi government for the move to set apart 10% seats for the so-called upper castes is that such groups also contain poor people who do not have sources of income.


The new law may or may not have much of an impact, as there are no foolproof ways to gauge a family’s income in India.

Typically, income assessment is done by producing certificates from a local government official.

However, due to widespread corruption, the so-called ‘income certificates’ are accessible to almost everyone, except to the sons and daughters of government servants and those in organized private sector whose income levels are well-documented.

It is estimated that more than 50% of the so-called general category candidates will be able to produce income certificates to prove that their household income is below Rs 8 lakhs a year, even though a genuine estimate of such families would be between 10-20%.

If 50% of the candidates can produce the certificate, then the ‘lift’ provided by the reservation will hardly be noticeable.

However, if the implementation of the income certification is done strictly, it could ensure that more poor people get government jobs than was otherwise the case.

The move is unlikely to hurt non-General class candidates who have reservations.

However, it will slightly lower the chances of who belong to OBC and general groups with income levels above Rs 8 lakh per year.