Creamy layer matters PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 04 September 2006 00:00
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Though the Moily Oversight Committee on OBC reservations appears to be split on the issue of what to do with the “creamy layer”, or the well-to-do amongst the OBCs, the government is likely to stick to its decision to allow the “creamy layer” OBCs to avail themselves of reservations as well. The reason is simple. If the creamy layer, defined as those families earning more than Rs 2.5 lakh a year today, who form the top tenth of the country’s population, is not to be allowed to get OBC reservations, the OBC quotas could remain largely unfilled! 

To understand this, it’s a good idea to look at the data for 1999, the only year for which we have detailed education data for the country in terms of caste, from the NSS. Had the Moily formula for a 54 per cent increase in college seats been adopted in 1999, this would have meant the number of college seats would have gone up from 6.6 million (taking the college enrolment in that year as a proxy for the number of seats) to 10.2 million. And of this, 2.7 million would have been reserved for OBCs. Since, in 1999, there were 3.7 million OBCs in the 19-25 age group who were high school graduates, of which 0.86 million were from the creamy layer, the number of non-creamy OBC students who could theoretically go to college would be just marginally higher than the number of seats. Once you factor in the fact that just half of those who pass out of school go to college, the problem of empty seats gets a lot worse. (It would be interesting to collect data from the IITs, the medical colleges, and the IIMs to see what proportion of reserved seats today is actually filled before we go around spending the Rs 16,500 crore, which Moily estimates need to be spent on creating fresh education infrastructure for the OBC reservations.) 

The dominance of the creamy layer among those going to college, of course, is not something unique to OBCs alone since it is the richer sections of society that can afford to let their children study for a few more years instead of getting into the job market immediately. Among the Muslims, NSS data for 1999 show, 35 per cent of those enrolled in college were from the top 10 per cent of the population in terms of income, while under 13 per cent of those in college were from the bottom 50 per cent of the population. In the case of the SC/STs, nearly a fourth of those enrolled in college were from the topmost income decile as compared to just a fifth for the bottom half of the population. In the case of OBCs, the creamy layer accounts for a third of all students enrolled in college while under 14 per cent of college-enrolled students come from the bottom half of the population. In which case, allowing the creamy layer to avail itself of reservations is critical. In which case, don’t be surprised if Moily decided to duck this question in the final report. 

The other important issue that comes up while looking at income levels of various caste groups in the country is that the OBCs are the average Indian; as a group they are neither richer nor poorer than the average. In which case, why bother to make reservations for them at all? The OBCs are 32 per cent of the country’s population; they also comprise 32 per cent of the country’s poor. The OBCs’ share in the country’s land holdings in 1999 was 35.7 per cent, again a figure that is broadly consistent with their population share; certainly it does not show they’re worse off. Use other parameters such as the mean consumption by the OBCs, and the result doesn’t change dramatically. 

Indeed, the groups that emerge as badly off are the SC/STs and the Muslims. The Muslims were 12.7 of the country’s population in 1999 but comprised 16 per cent of the poor, and accounted for just 5.6 per cent of the land holdings. The SC/STs were 26.7 per cent of population but were 40 per cent of the poor. 

This is the ultimate irony. The OBCs are not economically worse off than the average Indian, they’re certainly not discriminated against in terms of access to education as their share in top jobs is roughly equal to their share in college/school graduates (see “Schooling acts as effective job quota,” Business Standard, May 9), and yet they’re being given preferential treatment. In the name of social justice!


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