Centre informs SC that it would revisit ₹8 lakh annual income limit for EWS category

The government on Thursday informed the Supreme Court about its intention to revisit the limit of Rs. 8 lakh annual income fixed for determining the Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) category.

The government’s submission came in a case filed by NEET aspirants challenging a July 29 notification announcing 27% quota to OBCs and 10% reservation to EWS in the All India Quota (AIQ) category.

The government assured the court that the NEET counselling would be deferred for four weeks till a decision was taken on the EWS quota.

"The government has taken a decision to revisit the criteria with regard to determining the Economically Weaker Sections in terms of the provisions of the explanation to Article 15 of the Constitution inserted by the 103rd Constitutional Amendment Act," a Bench led by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud recorded in a short order.

It scheduled the case next on January 6, 2022.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the government along with Additional Solicitor General K.M. Natraj, said they have been instructed to submit that a committee would be set up to review the Rs. 8 lakh criteria to identify EWS category.

In a previous hearing, the apex court had expressed its annoyance at the government for not filing an affidavit explaining how it reached the Rs. 8 lakh figure to identify the EWS category for grant of reservation. "Tell us if you want to revisit the criteria or not. If you want us to discharge our duties, then we are ready to do so. We are formulating questions… you need to answer them," Justice Chandrachud had said.

The court had said it may even "stay the government notification fixing Rs. 8 lakh for determining the EWS".

"You cannot just pick Rs 8 lakh out of the thin air and fix it as a criteria. There has to be some basis, some study. Tell us whether any demographic study or data was taken into account in fixing the limit. How do you arrive at this exact figure? Can the Supreme Court strike down the criteria if no study was undertaken?" the court had asked the government.

In a hearing on October 7, the government had assured the court that it would file an affidavit on oath explaining the reasons and statistics which led to the figure ‘Rs. 8 lakh’ as the annual income criterion to identify EWS among forward classes of the society for grant of 10% reservation in medical admissions under the All India Quota.

The Supreme Court’s query was considered significant as the 103rd Constitutional Amendment of 2019, which introduced the 10% EWS quota, was itself under challenge before a larger Bench. The Amendment is under question for making economic criterion as the sole ground for grant of reservation benefits.

The court had insisted on the affidavit though Mr. Natraj urged it to leave the “larger” issue of what led to income criterion of Rs. 8 lakh for the Constitution Bench to examine.

It may be recalled that the Supreme Court had earlier raised several questions about this criteria for EWS and made a prima facie observation that it appeared to be arbitrary, while hearing a batch of petitions related to NEET-AIQ.

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