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The Central Government of India classifies some of its citizens based on their social and economic condition as Scheduled Caste, Scheduled Tribe and Other Backward Class (OBC). The OBC list presented by the commission is dynamic (castes and communities can be added or removed) and will change from time to time depending on Social, Educational and Economic factors. For example, the OBCs are entitled to 27% reservations in public sector employment and higher education. In the constitution, OBCs are described as "socially and educationally backward classes", and government is enjoined to ensure their social and educational development.

OBC list includes castes and communities that belong to all four varnas (Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra) that are deemed to be socially and educationally backward.

Until 1985, the affairs of Backward Classes were looked after by the Backward Classes Cell (BCC) in the Ministry of Home Affairs. With the creation of a separate Ministry of Welfare in 1985 (renamed as Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment on 25 May 1998) the matters relating to Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Other Backward Classes (OBCs) and Minorities were transferred to the new Ministry.

The Backward Classes Division in the Ministry looks after the policy, planning and implementation of programmes relating to social and economic empowerment of OBCs. It also looks after matters relating to two institutions set up for the welfare of OBCs: National Backward Classes Finance and Development Corporation (NBCFDC) and the National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC).


Obligation of the government

Under Article 340 of the Indian Constitution, it is obligatory for the government to promote the welfare of the Other Backward Classes (OBC). Article 340(1) states, " The president may by order appoint a commission, consisting of such persons as he thinks, fit to investigate the conditions of socially and educationally backward classes within the territory of India and the difficulties under which they labour and to make recommendations as to the steps that should be taken by the union or any state to remove such difficulties and as to improve ‘their condition and as to the grants that should be made, and the order appointing such commission shall define the procedure to be followed by the commission."

Article 340(2) states, "A commission so appointed shall investigate the matters referred to them and present to the president a report setting out the facts as found by them and making such recommendations as they think proper."



First Backward Classes commission

The First Backward Classes Commission was set up by a presidential order on January 29, 1953 under the chairmanship of Kaka Kalelkar. The commission submitted its report on March 30, 1955. It had prepared a list of 2,399 backward castes or communities for the entire country and of which 837 had been classified as the "most backward". Some of the most notable recommendations of the commission were:

  1. Undertaking caste-wise enumeration of population in the census of 1961;
  2. Relating social backwardness of a class to its low position in the traditional caste hierarchy of Indian society;
  3. Treating all women as a class as "backward";
  4. Reservation of 70 per cent seats in all technical and professional institutions for qualified students of backward classes.
  5. Reservation of vacancies in all government services and local bodies for other backward classes.

The commission in its final report recommended "caste as the criteria" to determine backwardness. But this report was not accepted by the government as it feared that the backward classes excluded from the caste and communities selected by the commission may not be considered and the really needy would be swamped by the multitude and would hardly receive special attention.

Mandal commission

**NFHS Survey estimated only Hindu OBC population. Total OBC population derived by assuming Muslim OBC population in same proportion as Hindu OBC population)

The decision to set up a second backward classes commission was made official by the president on January 1, 1979. The commission popularly known as the Mandal Commission, its chairman being B. P. Mandal. It submitted the report in December 1980.The recommendations of the commission were: The population of OBCs which includes both Hindus and non-Hindus is around 52 per cent of the total population according to the Mandal Commission.

However, this finding was criticized as based on "fictitious data." The National Sample Survey puts the figure at 32%[1]. There is substantial debate over the exact number of OBC's in India, with census data compromised by partisan politics. It is generally estimated to be sizable, but lower than the figures quoted by either the Mandal Commission or and National Sample Survey[2].

27 per cent of reservation was recommended owing to the legal constraint that the total quantum of reservation should not exceed 50 percent. States which have already introduced reservation for OBC exceeding 27 per cent will not be affected by this recommendation. With this general recommendation the commission proposed the following over-all scheme of reservation for OBC:

  1. Candidates belonging to OBC recruited on the basis of merit in an open competition should not be adjusted against their reservation quota of 27 per cent.
  2. The above reservation should also be made applicable to promotion quota at all levels.
  3. Reserved quota remaining unfilled should be carried forward for a period of three years and de-reserved thereafter.
  4. Relaxation in the upper age limit for direct recruitment should be extended to the candidates of OBC in the same manner as done in the case of SCs and STs.
  5. A roster system for each category of posts should be adopted by the concerned authorities in the same manner as presently done in respect of SC and ST candidates.

These recommendations in total are applicable to all recruitment to public sector undertakings both under the central and state governments, as also to nationalised banks. All private sector undertakings which have received financial assistance from the government in one form or other should also be obliged to recruit personnel on the aforesaid basis. All universities and affiliated colleges should also be covered by the above scheme of reservation. Although education is considered an important factor to bring a desired social change, "educational reform" was not within the terms of reference of this commission. To promote literacy the following measures were suggested:

  1. An intensive time-bound programme for adult education should be launched in selected pockets with high concentration of OBC population;
  2. Residential schools should be set up in these areas for backward class students to provide a climate specially conducive to serious studies. All facilities in these schools including board and lodging should be provided free of cost to attract students from poor and backward homes;
  3. Separate hostels for OBC students with above facilities will have to be provided;
  4. Vocational training was considered imperative.
  5. It was recommended that seats should be reserved for OBC students in all scientific, technical and professional institutions run by the central as well as state governments. The quantum of reservation should be the same as in the government services, i e, 27 per cent.[1]

Backward class people is a collective term, used by the Government of India, for castes which are economically and socially disadvantaged and face, or may have faced discrimination on account of birth. Most of them do not have any land ownership or economic independence and are dependent on Forward Castes for employment, mostly as farm hands or menial labour; or derive income from self employment on caste-dependent skills assignment. They typically include the Dalits, the Scheduled castes, and the Other Backward Classes (OBCs). They live mainly in rural India and perform hard physical labour such as agriculture and janitorial work. Backward Castes constitute around 50%[citation needed] of the Indian population. Even though they have a rich culture, many live below the poverty line. According to estimates from the Indian government's National Sample Survey, in 1999-2000 44% of Scheduled Tribes and 35% of Scheduled Castes lived in poverty.[citation needed]. Their plight is regarded as a serious issue in Indian society[citation needed].

Political parties in India have attempted to use these communities as votebanks.[citation needed] In contrast, some politicians like Ambedkar, D. Devaraj Urs, V.P. Singh have tried to self-empower the Backward Castes. As a result, there are now many opinion leaders, including Bangarappa, Siddaramaiah, Narendra Modi, Uma Bharathi, Ramachandra Veerappa, Laloo Prasad Yadav, and Mulayam Singh Yadav, in these communities.

Supreme Court interim stay

On 29 March 2007, the Supreme Court of India, as an interim measure, stayed the law providing for 27 percent reservation for Other Backward Classes in educational institutions like IITs and IIMs. This was done in response to a public interest litigation — Ashoka Kumar Thakur vs. Union of India. The Court held that the 1931 census could not be a determinative factor for identifying the OBCs for the purpose of providing reservation. The court also observed, "Reservation cannot be permanent and appear to perpetuate backwardness".[2]

Supreme Court verdict

The Supreme Court of India on April 10, 2008, upheld the Government's move for initiating 27% OBC quotas in Government funded institutions. The Court has categorically reiterated its prior stand that "Creamy layer" should be excluded from the ambit of reservation policy and private institutions are also not to be included in. The verdict produced mixed reactions from supporting and opposing quarters. Several criteria to identify creamy layer has been recommended, which are as follows:[3]

Those with family income above Rs 250,000 a year (Now Rs 450,000 a year) should be in creamy layer, and excluded from the reservation quota. Also, children of doctors, engineers, chartered accountants, actors, consultants, media professionals, writers, bureaucrats, defence officers of colonel and equivalent rank or higher, high court and Supreme Court judges, all central and state government Class A and B officials. The court has requested Parliament to exclude MPs’ and MLAs’ children, too.

Ashoka Kumar Thakur vs. Union of India

1.The Constitution (Ninety-Third Amendment) Act, 2005 does not violate the "basic structure" of the Constitution so far as it relates to the state maintained institutions and aided educational institutions. Question whether the Constitution (Ninety-Third Amendment) Act, 2005 would be constitutionally valid or not so far as "private unaided" educational institutions are concerned, is left open to be decided in an appropriate case.

2."Creamy layer" principle is one of the parameters to identify backward classes. Therefore, principally, the "Creamy layer" principle cannot be applied to STs and SCs, as SCs and STs are separate classes by themselves.

3. Preferably there should be a review after ten years to take note of the change of circumstances.

4. A mere graduation (not technical graduation) or professional deemed to be educationally forward.

5. Principle of exclusion of Creamy layer applicable to OBC's.

6. The Central Government shall examine as to the desirability of fixing a cut off marks in respect of the candidates belonging to the Other Backward Classes (OBCs)to balance reservation with other societal interests and to maintain standards of excellence. This would ensure quality and merit would not suffer. If any seats remain vacant after adopting such norms they shall be filled up by candidates from general categories.

7. So far as determination of backward classes is concerned, a Notification should be issued by the Union of India. This can be done only after exclusion of the creamy layer for which necessary data must be obtained by the Central Government from the State Governments and Union Territories. Such Notification is open to challenge on the ground of wrongful exclusion or inclusion. Norms must be fixed keeping in view the peculiar features in different States and Union Territories. There has to be proper identification of Other Backward Classes (OBCs.). For identifying backward classes, the Commission set up pursuant to the directions of this Court in Indra Sawhney 1 has to work more effectively and not merely decide applications for inclusion or exclusion of castes.

8.The Parliament should fix a deadline by which time free and compulsory education will have reached every child. This must be done within six months, as the right to free and compulsory education is perhaps the most important of all the fundamental rights (Art.21 A). For without education, it becomes extremely difficult to exercise other fundamental rights.

9.If material is shown to the Central Government that the Institution deserves to be included in the Schedule (institutes which are excluded from reservations) of The Central Educational Institutions (Reservation in Admission) Act, 2006 (No. 5 of 2007), the Central Government must take an appropriate decision on the basis of materials placed and on examining the concerned issues as to whether Institution deserves to be included in the Schedule of the said act as provided in Sec 4 of the said act.

10. Held that the determination of SEBCs is done not solely based on caste and hence, the identification of SEBCs is not violative of Article 15(1) of the Constitution.


  1. ^ Ramaiah, A (June 1992). "Identifying Other Backward Classes" (pdf). Economic and Political Weekly: 1203–1207. Retrieved 2006-05-22. 
  2. ^ "Supreme Court stays OBC quota in IITs, IIMs". ( India Limited). March 29, 2007. Retrieved 2007-04-01. 
  3. ^ "New Cutoff for OBCs". The Telegraph. April 11, 2008. Retrieved 2008-04-11. 


See also

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