30 years since OBC reservations

AUG 13

Mains   > Social justice   >   Government Policies   >   Vulnerable & Backward sections


  • August 7, 2020 marks 30 years of the introduction of Other Backward Classes (OBC) reservations in India. 


  • In accordance with Article 340 of the constitution, the First Backward Classes Commission was established in 1953 under the chairmanship of Kaka Kalelkar.
  • The commission used caste as the sole criterion and unit for determining backwardness. It submitted its report in 1955. However, the Government rejected the recommendations.
  • In 1979, the Morarji Desai Government appointed the Second Backward Classes Commission under the chairmanship of B P Mandal.
  • The commission identified as many as 3743 castes as socially and educationally backward classes. They constitute nearly 52% of the population, excluding the scheduled castes (SCs) and the scheduled tribes (STs).
  • The commission submitted its report in 1980 and recommended for reservation of 27% government jobs for the OBCs so that the total reservation for all sections amounts to 50%.

The major recommendations of the Mandal Commission were:

  • Reservation of 27 per cent jobs for those who do not qualify on the basis of merit.
  • Reservation of 27 per cent be made for promotions at all levels.
  • The reserved quota, if unfilled, should be carried forward for a period of three years and de-reserved thereafter.
  • Age relaxation for the backward classes should be the same as it is in the case of the SCs and the STs
  • A roster system should be prepared for the backward classes on the pattern of the one done for the SCs and the STs.
  • The principle of reservation should be made applicable to all the public sector undertakings, banks, private undertakings receiving grants from the central- state governments, universities and colleges.
  • The government should make the necessary legal provisions for implementing these recommendations.
  • After being neglected for 10 years, the Report was accepted by the National Front government led by V.P. Singh in 1990.
  • In 1991, the Narasimha Rao Government introduced two changes:
    • Preference to the poorer sections among the OBCs in the 27% quota, i.e., adoption of the economic criteria in granting reservation
    • Reservation of another 10% of jobs for economically backward sections of higher castes who are not covered by any existing schemes of reservation.
  • OBC reservation in government jobs was introduced in 1993 and the education quota came into force in 2006.


  • In Indra Sawhney & Others Vs. Union of India, popularly known as the Mandal case (1992), the scope and extent of Article 16(4), which provides for reservation of jobs in favor of backward classes, was examined by a 9-judge bench of the Supreme Court.
  • The judgement:
    • Constitutional validity: It recognized socially and economically backward classes as a category and recognized the validity of 27% reservation. But it rejected the additional reservation of 10% for poorer sections of higher castes.
    • Maximum limit: The total reserved quota should not exceed 50% except in some extraordinary situations. This rule should be applied every year.
    • Concept of creamy layer: The advanced sections among the OBCs should be excluded from the list of beneficiaries of reservation.
    • No reservation in promotions: reservation should be confined to initial appointments only.
    • OBC Commission: A permanent statutory body should be established to examine complaints of over-inclusion and under-inclusion in the list of OBCs.


  • Ram Nandan Committee was appointed to identify the creamy layer among the OBCs. It submitted its report in 1993, which was accepted.
  • National Commission for Backward Classes was established in 1993 by an Act of Parliament. It considers inclusions in and exclusions from the lists of castes notified as backward for the purpose of job reservation.
  • Constitutional amendments: To circumvent the Supreme Court judgment, parliament enacted 77th, 81st, 82nd, and 85th amendment acts, and inserted the provisions for reservation in promotions and carried forward quota.
  • These amendments were challenged in the Court in the M Nagaraj and others v/s Union of India case, 2006.
    • The Court upheld the amendments as constitutionally valid but stated that the state was not bound to provide reservation in promotions to SCs/STs.
    • But in case any state wished to make such a provision, it was required to:
      1. Collect quantifiable data on backwardness of the class
      2. Prove that it is inadequately represented in public employment
      3. Does not hinder the overall efficiency of administration
    • Also, even if the State has a compelling reason it will have to see that its reservation provision does not breach the ceiling-limit of 50% or obliterate the creamy layer or extend the reservation indefinitely.


  • There is a single Central OBC list with entries from each State. An individual belonging to an OBC community and whose income is below Rs. 8 Lakhs would belong to non-creamy layer category and is eligible for reservation.
  • State governments have made it mandatory to obtain an OBC certificate for the people who fall under this category to avail the benefits.
  • National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC) is the apex authority to examine complaints and welfare measures regarding socially and educationally backward classes.

National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC):

  • It was established as a Statutory body in 1993, following the Indra Sawhney judgement. The 102nd Constitution Amendment Act, 2018 provided constitutional status to the body.
  • The Commission consists of five members including a Chairperson, Vice-Chairperson and three other Members appointed by the President by warrant under his hand and seal.
  • Its major functions include:
    • Investigate and monitor all matters relating to the safeguards provided for the socially and educationally backward classes.
    • Advise on the development of the SEBCs and evaluate the progress of their development.
    • Present reports to the President. The President laid such reports before each House of Parliament.
    • Discharge other functions in relation to the protection, welfare and advancement of the SEBCs as the President may specify.
    • Grievance redressal of backward classes. It has all the powers of a civil court while trying a suit.


  • Errors in estimation: No definite data is available about the OBCs in India. No caste-based census has been conducted since 1931. Due to lack of empirical data on backwardness, whenever any caste group launches an agitation for quota or for itself to be considered ‘backward’, the government fails to counter their demand.
  • Intra community inequality: Within OBCs, some communities benefited more than others. A panel constituted by the government in 2017 had found that less than 1 % have cornered 50 % of the reservation benefits, while 20% of OBC communities did not get any quota benefit between 2014 and 2018.
  • Under representation in employment: In 2019, a parliamentary panel on the Welfare of OBCs had noted that the 27% vacancies reserved in favour of OBCs were not being filled up. OBCs occupied only 8.37% posts in the Class A of central government services and only 10.01% of the Class B posts.
  • Failure in implementation: Many cases exist in which OBC reservation is not being implemented. For instance, in July, 2020, the central government admitted in the Madras High Court that OBCs were not given reservation in the All India quota of medical seats in several courses.
  • “Mandal politics”: Today, OBCs are one of the largest groups in Indian politics. However, reservations have become a major political tool. Political parties, in order to appease vote bank communities, continue to expand reservation — to the extent that now dominant communities’ avail quotas, and in many states, there is over 70% reservation in key spheres.
  • Perpetuation of caste: Eradication, not perpetuation of caste was the objective of the reservation policy. But caste-based reservation has only perpetuated the notion of caste in society.
  • Encourages apathetic governance: Affirmative action was designed to correct the historical wrong that certain groups experienced for centuries. However, governments, instead of taking reformative efforts towards development, have come to use reservation as a poverty alleviation and employment measure.


  • Sub categorization: Sub categorization will ensure that the more backward among the communities have equitable access to the benefits of reservation. Several states have already sub-categorised OBCs. The Union government has constituted a Commission headed by Justice (Retd.) Smt. G. Rohini to examine the sub-categorisation of OBCs.
  • Caste data: Without any data on Caste, it is difficult to formulate effective policies for the welfare of the excluded sections. Hence, the government must take measures to create a credible dataset and the Census 2021 is an ideal platform for this.
  • Improve awareness: Several studies have pointed out that a large section of people, particularly among the poorest, lack awareness about the reservation policies. Hence, steps must be taken to make the people more aware of reservations and make reservations accessible to them.
  • Rationalize Creamy layer: The creamy layer should be filtered out so that the most disadvantaged groups get the benefits of reservation. In case of SC/ST reservations, the directions of the Supreme Court to introduce creamy layer must be made a reality.
  • Shift towards development: The rising demand for reservation stems out of the weak state of Indian economy, such as stark unemployment levels and agrarian distress. Hence, government has to take substantial steps to bring about structural changes in areas such as agriculture, education, skill development and employment generation.


Q. What was held in the Mandal commission case? In this context, can the move for sub-categorization of reservations be justified?