Report of the Backward Classes Commission (Volumes I and II)
“There is equality only among equals. To equate unequals is to perpetuate inequality” — so begins this first part (Volumes I and II), released on December 31, 1980, of the Report of the Backward Classes Commission.
The commission was appointed by Morarji Desai – then prime minister of India – on December 20, 1978, with B.P. Mandal as its chairman. At the time, Mandal was Member of Parliament from the Madhepura constituency in Bihar.
The commission was set up to determine the criteria for defining socially and educationally backwards classes and providing recommendations for their advancement. The rest of its members included S. S. Gill (secretary), Dewan Mohan Lal, R. R. Bhole, K. Subramaniam, and Dina Bandhu Sahu – who left in 1979 and was replaced by L. R. Naik.
The commission was given the task of formulating ‘objective criteria’ to identify Other Backward Classes (OBCs). The Supreme Court, the report states, emphasised the need for objective tests and field surveys for such identification. For these, data on social backwardness was collected from seminars with sociologists, questionnaires to central and state governments and the public, and by analysing census data – specifically, Census 1961 – among other sources.Based on its findings, the commission prepared comprehensive lists of OBCs in all states and Union Territories. These lists are in the second part of the report (Volumes III-VII). This first part includes chapters on the First Backward Classes Commission’s report of March 31, 1955, the social dynamics of caste, a comparison of the welfare of OBCs between the north and south of India, and social justice, merit and privilege.
The recommendations of the First Backward Classes Commission – set up on January 29, 1953 – were not accepted by the central government on the grounds that the commission had not applied objective tests for identifying backward classes. In the then government’s view, the commission had classified a large section of the population as backward. This report states that the government opposed the adoption of caste as the criterion for backwardness, and preferred applying economic tests.
But castes, this report affirms, ‘are the building blocks of the Hindu social structure’. They have kept Hindu society divided in a hierarchical order for centuries, closely linking a person’s caste ranking and their social, economic and educational status.
The report notes that caste is an important factor in identifying OBCs in Hindu communities. If a caste as a whole is socially and educationally backward, the government can make reservations in its favour.
OBCs constitute nearly 52 per cent of the population of India, the report says – this is excluding Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (SC/ST), and including those among non-Hindu communities.
The southern states of India have done much more for the welfare of OBCs than the northern states, the report observes. In the north, "even modest welfare measures for OBCs have given rise to sharp resistance.”
Through a questionnaire circulated to state governments, the commission found that most of them considered caste an important criterion for determining social and educational backwardness. Reservation in government services for OBCs ranged from 50 per cent in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu to 5 per cent in Punjab to nil in Rajasthan, Orissa and Delhi.
Based on replies to a questionnaire sent in by 30 central ministries/departments, 31 ‘attached and subordinate offices’, and public sector undertakings under 14 ministries, the commission observed this on the representation of OBCs among government employees: that the percentage of SC/ST and OBC employees was below that of their total population in the country. SC/STs and OBCs comprised 18.71 and 12.55 per cent of the government of India’s employees. The report states that they formed 22.5 and 52 per cent of India’s population, respectively.
In 1980, the commission conducted a country-wide (405 of India’s then 407 districts) socio-educational survey with the help of the Bureau of Economics and Statistics of several states. Through its results, the commission devised 11 criteria for determining social and economic backwardness. These were placed under three broad heads: ‘Social, Educational and Economic’ and applied to castes in each state to determine the nature of backwardness.
The commission recommended that 27 per cent of seats in all scientific and professional institutions run by the central and state governments should be reserved for OBC students as an ‘educational concession’.
It also recommended that 27 per cent of all posts with the central government should be reserved for OBCs – though they constituted nearly 52 per cent of India’s population – because the total quantum of reservations under Articles 15(4) and 16(4) cannot exceed 50 per cent, as per Supreme Court judgements. Additionally, 22.5 per cent of posts with the government of India were already reserved for SC/STs.
The share of OBCs in the country’s industry and business is negligible, the report says, and this partly explains their low income levels. The commission advises state governments to create a separate network of financial and technical institutions to foster business and industrial enterprise among OBCs.
The commission recommends that the central government provide financial assistance to the states for undertaking programmes for OBCs.
Focus and Factoids by Sruti Penumetsa.
Backward Classes Commission, under the chairmanship of B. P. Mandal.
Government of India
31 Dec, 1980