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Monday, 22 August 2011 00:00
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The debate over reservations for OBCs in educational institutions could take a turn for the worse with the Supreme Court clarification on a 2008 ruling on the matter. In 2008, after a Constitution Bench gave four separate opinions to rule that reservations for OBCs did not violate the basic structure of the Constitution, it opined on how the eligibility criterion should be framed. The majority opinion was that the maximum cut-off marks for OBCs could be 10% below those for general category students. This, the Bench felt, would meet the need for affirmative action without compromising too much on merit.

This was interpreted differently by different groups and a debate ensued over the difference between eligibility and cut-off marks. Take the example of a college which says a candidate must have got at least 50% marks in Class 12 to apply for college. Based on the marks students get that year, despite 50% being the eligibility criterion, it’s possible the college may stop giving admission to general category students who get 90% marks. So, are OBCs to be given admission if they get less than 81% (that’s a 10% relaxation over 90%) marks? The pro-reservationists believed the 2008 ruling was clear that OBCs who get more than 45% (that’s a 10% relaxation of the 50% eligibility criterion) have to be considered for admission while some universities like Jawaharlal Nehru University thought no OBC below 81% was to be given admission. Which is when the case went to court again, for a ruling on the correct interpretation.

A two-judge Bench, including one of the judges who was on the Constitution Bench in 2008, ruled last week that cut-off and eligibility are really one and the same thing when it comes to the OBC candidates. So, it doesn’t matter if the final cut-off in a college is 90% or 95% for general category students, if the minimum eligibility is 50%, then OBC students with more than 45% marks are to be considered for admission—if there is an entrance exam, however, and the minimum marks to be scored are 60% for the general category, then OBCs will have to get at least 54% to qualify. Whether this decision will be challenged remains to be seen, but with universities such as Delhi University not able to fill its OBC quota despite coming out with its 9th list with very low cutoffs, the next battle is likely to be on whether the creamy layer criterion is too harsh—the 2008 Constitution Bench had ruled out reservations for the creamy layer.

 

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