The Punjab and Haryana High Court on Tuesday set aside a government notification fixing income criteria for allotting quota seats to candidates from the backward class category.
The impugned notification had been issued on 17 August, 2016 under the Backward Classes (Reservation in Services and Admissions in Educational Institutions) Act, 2016. It had stipulated that the children of people with a gross annual income of upto three lakh rupees shall first get the benefit of reservation in services and admission in educational institutions. The left out quota, it said, would go to that class of Backward Classes of citizens who earn more than three lakh rupees but upto six lakh rupees per annum.
The Bench comprising Justice Mahesh Grover and Justice Mahabir Singh Sindhu opined that the notification, instead of benefiting the category, had led to the exclusion of a section of the Backward Class without any substantiation by verifiable data. It observed,
“Had the Commission, on the basis of some verifiable data concluded about certain castes/classes with their vocations being backward, the State would have been well justified to identify such castes to treat them socially more backward with verifiable data to conclude economic backwardness as well. But this has not happened and instead, what has resulted, is a complete exclusion of those with income beyond Rs.3 lakhs, regardless of their caste, vocation etc. 
Evidently, even if the intention of the State may not be doubted, and it is nobody’s case that there is an ulterior motive in making such a prescription, yet the object intended to be achieved has not yielded any result rather it has resulted in sheer exclusion of a section of people though backward and it possibly may have resulted in excluding those who are identified as socially backward by the Backward Class Commission itself.”
The Court was hearing sixteen petitions filed by medical aspirants through Advocate Prithvi Raj Yadav, alleging that the notification was in conflict with the Supreme Court judgment in the case of Indra Sawhney & ors. v. Union of India & ors.
The State, on the other hand, had justified the notification asserting that it was passed with the objective of ensuring the benefit of reservation to the most marginalized. Interestingly, the State had also relied on certain observations made in Indra Sawhney’s case to justify its actions. It had asserted that the only reasonable and intelligible basis to ensure the benefit to percolate to the truly deserving incumbents was through the economic criteria laid down by them.
The Court, however, opined that the State had failed in its attempt by not substantiating by any verifiable data the fact of social backwardness of the classes that stand to benefit. It further gave an example to elaborate on the arbitrariness of the notification:
“Supposing a Class IV employee working in a metropolitan city, earns more than his counterpart in a suburb, or a small town but continues to remain economically disadvantaged on account of high costs of living, while his counterpart has more liquidity due to low costs of living and invests wisely to secure income for himself from other sources. The one in a big city would continue to remain as socially and economically disadvantaged though empowered in many other ways, as his counterpart who continues to be as socially disadvantaged though economically advantaged. In its application of the economic criteria as the one dictated by the State it helps the one who has lesser salaried income as he has acquired more from other sources but it has no co-relation to his social status. Both have not been liberated either from shackles of poverty or gained social status.”
The Court then asserted that within the spectrum of 0 to 6 lakhs, it will be difficult to assert with certainty that one with an income of 3 lakhs is more favourably placed than the one with less than 3 lakhs in income, in terms of social status or vocation. Any such sub-classification in the backward classes without any inputs, it ruled, can be termed as “arbitrary classification that ensures reverse discrimination which closes the doors of equitable distribution amongst the backward classes”.
Relying on Indra Sawhney’s case, the Court noted that economic criteria and well being can be one of the indications for social upliftment but cannot be the sole criteria and set aside the notification, ruling, “The end result is that the State has given a benefit with one hand only to take it away with the other. There is absolutely no established co-relation between the socially backward and the economic deprived and thus, on the said reasoning, we are of the opinion that the impugned notification has to be held to be bad in law and deserves to be set aside.”