The media is abuzz with reports that Justices Pasayat-Thakker judgments on Mandal II -if read with Justice Bhandari’s – would mean that majority Judges have held that graduates cannot be educationally backward, and therefore, cannot qualify as SEBCs/OBCs. As a consequence, these reports suggest, the OBC graduates cannot be the beneficiaries of the law meant for OBCs which has been upheld by the Supreme Court’s Constitution Bench.
The confusion, I understand, has now been cleared. Justice Pasayat, I believe, has referred to the issue only in the context of identification/determination of OBCs. This clarification assumes significance in the context of some misinterpretations in sections of the media about the import of the Judgment.
If majority Judges indeed wanted to disqualify the OBC graduates from the Mandal II benefits, then they would have struck down the law, as the Central Government’s aim in this Act was to confer the quota benefits on OBC students in higher education (though the Act is applicable to all the Central educational institutions, irrespective of whether it is post-graduate institutions or not.) Still, it would have been better if Justics Pasayat and Thakker made themselves clearer in their judgment on this issue than what they have been. It seems Justice Pasayat’s purpose in suggesting it was that if a group reveals the presence of a substantial number of graduates, then that group cannot be called SEBC/OBC, and the NCBC ought to exclude it at the time of review. That does not mean, graduates in a recognised OBC group would be excluded (like the creamy layer in that group) from the Act’s benefits. Seen in this context, Justice Bhandari appears to have got it wrong.
Update:: Mr.Vivek Reddy asks in the comments section whether the above clarification was in fact my interpretation. The ‘clarification’ was in fact based on today’s The Hindu report (I am unable to provide the link) on ‘Quota Judgment seen as fine balancing act'(News analysis on p.12 Delhi edition). The report concludes that Mr.Pasayat favours the identification of the SEBCs with ‘graduation’ as the basis; nowhere does he talk about excluding graduates. I agree that this is a plausible interpretation. This interpretation is also sustained because during the hearing of the case, none of the petitioners’ counsel argued the case for excluding OBC graduates, or restricting the quota benefits to undergraduate courses. Only Mr.P.P.Rao dealt with it in passing, during the replies to the arguments of the respondents. The Judges on the Bench, including Justices Bhandari,Thakker, and Pasayat had serious reservations about his proposal to deny quota benefits to post-graduate OBC students.