By Nirendra Dev
The BJP-led central government has initiated a process to review the definition of "creamy layer" as applicable to Other Backward Classes (OBCs), which have a sizeable presence in poll-bound Uttar Pradesh.
The move comes amid efforts by the BJP to build a broad caste matrix in the crucial state that will go to the polls early next year.
Sources said that Union Social Justice Minister Thawar Chand Gehlot has instructed officials to initiate the process of reviewing the definition of "creamy layer". "Creamy layer" refers to relatively wealthier members of the OBCs who are not eligible for government-sponsored educational programmes and jobs reserved for the community.
The issue was flagged last month by Republican Party of India leader and Union Minister of State for Social Justice Ramdas Athawale. He is understood to have also raised it with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Athawale is keen to raise the limit of annual income to Rs 10 lakh for the purpose of defining the "creamy layer", but Gehlot is learnt to be pitching for it to be raised only up to Rs 8 lakh.
Officials said that raising the ceiling of annual income of OBC families to get benefits of quota would result in a larger pool of candidates being eligible for government jobs and seats in educational institutions.
They also said that a large number of vacancies in government jobs meant for OBCs were vacant for want of candidates from among these communities.
Leaders of the Samajwadi Party, which is seen to have sway over a large section of OBC votes in Uttar Pradesh, termed the move of the central government as "political" and said it was aimed at garnering votes.
"The move to raise the creamy layer limit for OBCs at this juncture is politically motivated. The BJP wants to garner political benefits in Uttar Pradesh by such tokenism and lip service. But they will not gain anything," Samajwadi Party leader Dharmendra Yadav told IANS.
BJP leaders, however, said that concerns about the income ceiling on OBC quotas have been expressed from time to time.
"This is not true. We are committed to welfare of the OBCs along with other communities in Uttar Pradesh and across India. But the ceiling cap of the OBCs is always a matter of concern and is raised from time to time," BJP MP Jagdambika Pal said.
The last review of the "creamy layer" for OBCs was done in 2013, and there is a provision to review it again in three years, a senior official said.
The income criterion was originally pegged at Rs 1 lakh per annum in 1993, and revised to Rs 2.5 lakh in 2004. It was subsequently raised to Rs 4.5 lakh in 2008 and Rs 6 lakh in 2013.
In October 2015, the National Commission for Backward Classes had recommended that an annual family income of Rs 15 lakh should be considered as the minimum ceiling for categorising the OBC creamy layer.
RPI leaders said that there was a growing demand among the OBC community leaders – including MPs – that this recommendation be implemented at the earliest.
They said that against the 27% vacancies allocated, the community gets only about 15% benefits and this is largely "because of the economic criteria and creamy layer ceiling".
According to the Mandal Commission report, OBCs constituted 52% of India's population in 1980. The decision to implement the Commission report was taken in 1990 with OBC candidates given 27% reservation in central government jobs.