Welcome clarity on ‘creamy layer’

Welcome clarity on ‘creamy layer’

The notion that creamy layer is an economic concept is widely prevalent, and the court has done well to make its idea clear

Supreme Court of India. Credit: Reuters File Photo

The Supreme Court’s ruling that economic criterion cannot be the sole basis to identify the “creamy layer’’ among the backward classes is a reiteration of the directions it had given in the Indra Sawhney judgement of 1992. It was the 1992 ruling that introduced the idea of creamy layer into the process of implementation of reservations for the Other Backward Classes (OBC). While upholding the grant of 27% reservations for the OBCs, the court had also directed that those who belonged to the creamy layer should not be given the benefit. It defined and explained the concept and has now reiterated the explanation in a ruling made last week that quashed two Haryana government notifications specifying the criterion for determining it solely on the basis of the annual income of the family. The notion that creamy layer is an economic concept is widely prevalent, and the court has done well to make its idea clear. 

The court ruled that the Haryana government’s notifications were bad because they reduced the court’s criteria to a single measure. The Indra Sawhney judgement had laid down a set of criteria for identification, including being the children of high-ranking constitutional functionaries, government employees of a certain rank, those affluent enough to employ others or those that had significant property and agricultural holdings, along with an identified annual income. This derived from the idea of socio-economic backwardness which is the basis of reservations, as distinct from economic backwardness. The Haryana government had notified that the children of citizens who had a gross annual income of up to Rs 3 lakh were to be given preference in getting the benefit of reservation and what remained in the remaining quota would go to the children of those who earned more than Rs 3 lakh but less than Rs 6 lakh per year. There was no legal reason for reducing the criterion to income only and then dividing it. The Punjab and Haryana High Court had struck down the notifications, specifically mentioning that the sub-categorisation of the “non-creamy layer’’ was unconstitutional and unsupported by data. The Supreme Court has upheld the ruling. It has also told the state government to formulate fresh criteria on the basis of its ruling. 

The current income ceiling for OBC reservations is Rs 8 lakh. There is a proposal to raise it to make up for depreciation by inflation. Backwardness as envisaged by the Constitution is a socio-economic condition and it should not be broken up into a solely social or a purely economic state. The criteria might change as society changes, and no set of criteria can accurately measure backwardness. But it is important not to make easy measurements and untenable innovations as the Haryana government did. 

Get a round-up of the day's top stories in your inbox

Check out all newsletters

Get a round-up of the day's top stories in your inbox