New Delhi: With barely three months to go for the crucial Bihar elections, the Narendra Modi government is all set to increase the income ceiling for the creamy layer of the other backward classes (OBCs) from the current Rs 8 lakh per annum to Rs 12 lakh.
Under the current rules, a household with an annual income of Rs 8 lakh or above is classified as belonging to the ‘creamy layer’ among OBCs and hence is not eligible for reservation in government jobs and government-funded educational institutions.
But apart from raising the ceiling to Rs 12 lakh, the new change also calls for including the salary in calculating the gross annual income.
According to sources, the proposal is likely to be taken up by the cabinet soon.
The elections in Bihar assume significance for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) since despite being in an alliance with the JD(U), it has positioned itself lately as the leading partner, with Union Home Minister and senior BJP leader Amit Shah leading from the front; he even held a virtual rally on 7 June.
The election is also important for the party which recently suffered a series of losses — the BJP lost in several states including Delhi and Jharkhand, while it was unable to form the government in Maharashtra despite emerging as the single largest party.
Rajnath-headed GoM drives change
ThePrint has learnt that the Group of Ministers (GoM) headed by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, at a meeting Shah also participated in, deliberated on the issue and concluded that “this increase from Rs 8 lakh to 12 lakh and simplifying the mode of calculation of income by including all income sources except agriculture would bring benefit to the most”.
Another official pointed out that the government is confident that this would lead to “greater transparency and less manipulation at the certificate issuing level”.
“What is most important is that more people will be able to get the benefit of reservation, which they are not able to right now,” added the official.
According to sources, one of the changes that has been made to the proposal is to take an average of three years annual salary to calculate a person’s final salary rather than just the annual income.
According to sources, a few BJP leaders had said the matter should not be raised before the Bihar elections, however, officials pointed out that the beneficiaries will only increase through this exercise despite making salary as one of the components to decide on the gross annual income.
An eye on Bihar polls
After the 2015 poll debacle in Bihar and the subsequent losses in assembly elections, the BJP is not willing to take any chance. In Bihar, according to a rough estimate, over 40 per cent of the population is OBC.
“The proposal has got a go-ahead from the GoM and has been studied minutely. This will only increase the number of beneficiaries,” said another source in the government. “The few who have opposed the income limit are the salaried class but through this move, the poor and needy will benefit.”
According to the source, the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment had circulated a Cabinet note on the recommendations, seeking suggestions and inputs from other ministries. “The matter will be tabled before the Union Cabinet soon wherein a final decision will be taken,” added the source.
The BJP, which is largely viewed as a party of the “upper castes” has been promoting its own Bihar OBC leaders such as Nityanand Rai (MoS, Ministry of Home Affairs) and Sanjay Jaiswal (BJP Bihar president).
The Modi government had in September 2017 increased the creamy layer income ceiling from Rs 6 lakh to Rs 8 lakh for OBCs.
GoM reviewed a panel report
The Rajnath-headed GoM was formed to consider the report of a government-appointed committee. The committee, headed by B.P. Sharma, former secretary of the department of personnel and training, was formed to examine issues related to creamy layer equivalence among the socially and educationally backward classes (SEBCs).
The committee had submitted its report on 19 September 2019 and recommended including salaries in calculating the gross annual income of households to determine the OBC creamy layer, and to raise the income ceiling from the present Rs 8 lakh per annum.
The OBCs are entitled to 27 per cent reservation in government jobs and admission to educational institutions. However, the creamy layer among them is excluded from such benefits.
Presently, those with annual parental income (excluding earnings from farming, agriculture land, etc) of Rs 8 lakh and above are not eligible for reservation benefits. Also, those who hold constitutional positions and enter Class-A positions in the government sector are automatically included in the creamy layer.