Apex court asks government to explain ‘creamy layer’ criterion


New Delhi : The Supreme Court Monday asked the government to explain the decision to fix Rs.450,000 as the minimum annual income for the people among the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) to be regarded as “creamy lawyer” or elite who would not be eligible for various benefits.

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A bench of Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan and Justice P. Sathasivam issued the notice to the central government seeking within four weeks its rational behind its Oct 13 order that raised the income criterion to Rs.450,000 from Rs.250,000.

The bench issued the notice on two petitions, one by noted academician P.V. Indiresan and the other by civil rights body Nair Service Society, questioning the government notification.

The notification provided that a backward category person would be regarded as an elite or creamy lawyer within the community only if his or her annual income is at least Rs.450,000 or above. In that case, the person would lose reservation benefits, including those in state jobs or admission in educational institutions.

The government changed the income criterion after the apex court’s April 10 ruling.

A constitution bench of the apex court on Apr 10, while upholding the law for 27 percent quota for OBC category students in state-run institutions of higher learning, had stipulated that the students belonging to the ‘creamy layer’ have to be kept out of the quota.

Arguing for Indiresan, senior counsel K.K. Venugopal said the government’s Oct 13 notification would defeat the very purpose of the April 10 ruling.

Venuopal argued that the notification would ensure that no person among the backward category is dubbed as belonging to the ‘creamy layer’ and stand to loose the reservation benefits as envisaged by the apex court ruling.

To point out the illegalities of the government’s notification, Venugopal also recalled arguments by Additional Solicitor General Gopal Subramaniam before the constitution bench during the hearing of the lawsuits challenging the legality of the reservation law.

He recalled that Subramaniam had argued that 97.7 percent of backward category people earn a daily salary of Rs.80, which adds up to an annual earning of less than Rs.29,000.

He added that with 97.7 percent backward category people earning a maximum of Rs.29,000 annually, only a few among them could be assumed to be earning Rs.450,000 annually.

This implies that virtually nobody could be included in the ‘creamy layer’ and the quota in educational institutions would be virtually available for all OBCs.

This would defeat the very purpose of the apex court ruling, he said.

He also recalled that the apex court only last year had struck down a Kerala government decision to fix Rs.300,000 as the income criterion, terming it as unjustified.

“Unless there is 80 percent inflation in just one year, the central government’s decision too cannot be said to be justified,” he said in his petition.