1. ₹8 lakh income ‘reasonable’ cap for EWS quota, Centre tells SC
UPSC Syllabus: Mains: GS Paper 1: Polity & Governance
Sub Theme: Criteria for Reservation for Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) | UPSC
The Central Government has told the Supreme Court in an affidavit that it has decided to accept the recommendation
made by an expert committee to retain the limit of Rupees 8 lakhs gross annual income for Economically Weaker
The Supreme Court had earlier expressed doubts regarding the reasonableness of Rs 8 lakhs income criteria for EWS,
following which the Centre agreed to revisit the same after formulating an expert committee. The Centre also put on hold
the NEET-PG counselling process in view of the case pending before the Supreme Court.
Doctrine of Reasonable Classification
Article 14 says that State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within
the territory of India. Equality before law as provided in the Article 14 of our constitution provides that no one is above the
law of the land. Rule of the Law is an inference derived from Article 14 of the constitution. The article 14 aims to establish
the “Equality of Status and Opportunity” as embodied in the Preamble of the Constitution.
However, Article 14 does not mean that all laws must be general in character or that the same laws should apply to all
persons or that every law must have universal application. This is because all persons are not, by nature, attainment or
circumstances in the same positions.
Thus, the State can treat different persons in differently if circumstances justify such treatment. Further, the identical
treatment in unequal circumstances would amount to inequality.
Thus, there is a necessity of the “reasonable classification” for the society to progress. The Supreme Court has maintained
that Article 14 permits reasonable classification of persons, objects, transactions by the State for the purpose of achieving
specific ends that help in the development of the society. However, Article 14 forbids “class legislation”. Class legislation
makes an improper discrimination by conferring particular privileges upon a class of persons.
However, some argue that the extensive use of device of “reasonable classification” by State and its approval by the
Supreme Court has rendered the guarantee of ‘fair and equitable” treatment under Article 14 illusory. Here comes the role
of “Test of reasonable classification”. The Test of Reasonable Classification says that the classification must be based upon
intelligible differentia that distinguishes persons or things that are grouped from others that are left out of the group. This
differentia must have a rational relation to the object of classification. There should be a relation between the
differentiations to the object of the classification. If there are no such relations, the reasonable classification would fail.
For example denial of grant to a private college teaching law while giving grant to other private colleges teaching other
subjects is not permissible. However, reduction of age from 58 years to 55 years is permissible.
Erstwhile criteria for EWS
As per the notification dated January 17, 2019 persons who are not covered under the scheme of reservation for SCs, STs
and OBCs and whose family has a gross annual income below Rs 8 lakh are to be identified as EWSs for benefit of
Furthermore, persons whose family owns or possesses any of the following assets were to be excluded from being
identified as EWS:
(a) five acres of agricultural land and above;
(b) a residential plot of 100 square yards and above in notified municipalities and 200 square yards and above in areas
other than notified municipalities; and
(c) a residential flat of 1000 square feet and above
The word family included the candidate, his/her parents, under-18 siblings, spouse, and his/her under -18 children.
Income also had to include income from all sources i.e., salary, agriculture, business, profession etc. for the financial year
prior to the year of application.
Revised Criteria For Determining EWS Reservation
Using a set of indicators that minimized Type I (Minimizing the inclusion of the undeserving ones) and Type II errors
(Minimizing the exclusion of deserving ones), the Committee arrived at the revised EWS criteria wherein:
A. Only Those Families Whose Annual Income Is Upto Rs 8 Lakh Would Be Eligible To Get The Benefit Of EWS Reservation
A. 1 Though Specific Number Of Rs 8 Lakhs Appears To Be Same As OBC Creamy Layer Cut-Off, Application Of The Cut-Off
Is Very Different In EWS & OBC As Two Have Different Contexts.
The Supreme Court had prima facie observed that applying the income limit criteria(Rs 8 lakhs annual income) of OBC
Creamy lawyer to EWS was unreasonable, as the latter had no concept of social and economic backwardness.
In this regard, the Committee opined:
• EWS’s criteria related to the financial year prior to the year of application whereas the income criterion for creamy layer
in OBC category was applicable to gross annual income for three consecutive years.
• For deciding the OBC creamy layer, income from salaries, agriculture and traditional artisanal professions was excluded
from the consideration whereas Rs 8 lakh criteria for EWS included that from all sources including the farming
Cut-Off Lower Than Rs 8 Lakhs On Family Income Would Be Unduly Restrictive & Lead To Errors Of Exclusion Of Deserving
Eligible Persons The Committee in this regard referred to the definition of family for EWS and the fact of inclusion of
agricultural income (that did not attract income tax) in the income criteria. Considering the current income tax reforms
wherein effective income tax on individuals was zero for those with annual incomes up to Rs 5 lakhs, the Committee said
that after taking advantage of the various provisions for deductions, savings, insurance etc the tax- payer may not need to
pay any tax up to an annual income of Rs 7-8 lakhs.
The Committee also remarked that the application of EWS cut off of Rs 8 lakh to just an individual was in the ballpark of
income tax requirements for zero tax liability.
B. Irrespective Of Income, A Person Whose Family Has 5 Acres Of Agricultural Land & Above Shall Be Excluded From EWS
The Committee justified the exclusion of a person whose family has 5 acres of agricultural land from EWS in its report by
stating there was variability and paucity of information on agricultural income since the same was exempted from Income
Tax and was thus not ascertainable. It was further stated that ownership of farmland could be used as an exclusion criterion
since the same was not captured by income tax or other authorities.
C. Removing Residential Asset Criteria
In this regard, the Committee in its report said that the use of residential plot size and house floor area as an asset criterion
for identification of EWS, was complex. It further said that although these criteria also applied to the rural general category,
this was more pertinent for those in urban areas. In its report the Committee stated that it had looked into the question of
whether the house or plot area thresholds in EWS criteria should factor in the difference in their values based on
geographical distributions and recognised that it was not easy to specify a general residential area threshold for the entire
“Even if we replace the area thresholds in EWS criteria with residential house or plot values , still it would not solve the
problem because it would then require lakhs of candidates every year to get the valuation done of their houses and plots
from the notified authorities,” the Committee further said. It was also the Committee’s opinion that the correct economic
condition of the candidate or his family may not be reflected if the residential house was only used for dwelling and not
generating income and thus any EWS exclusion criteria based on owning a house may lead to unwanted exclusion of
deserving candidates. “It is the income of the family which matters and determines the economic conditions of the family
and that should be the basis for inclusion or that matter exclusion into EWS,” the Committee in its report stated. Residential
criteria was also altogether omitted as it also posed serious complications and burden on EWS families without
commensurate benefits. Opining that disturbing the existing system which is on-going since 2019 at the fag end would
create more complications than expected both for the beneficiaries as well as for the authorities, the Committee
recommended introducing the new criteria from next academic year/ admission cycle. Data Exchange And Information
Technology To Be Used More Actively To Verify Income & Assets, Improve Targeting For EWS Reservations & Across
Government Schemes; Three-Year Feedback Loop Cycle To Be Used For Monitoring Actual Outcomes Of The Criteria And
Then Be Used To Adjust Them In Future For managing the process of review of EWS in future, the Committee opined that
the traditional approach of ever more detailed multi-dimensional surveys or studies at a frequent interval alone might not
be useful for the operation of the EWS reservations. Remarking that the same was expensive, complicated, and irregular
the Committee opined that a better approach was to use a feedback loop to examine the actual outcomes from
implementation of the criteria, every three years. Proposal was also given by the Committee to prefer an “Agile” approach
over a “Waterfall” methodology.
The Committee summarized the recommendations as:
(i) The current gross annual family income limit for EWS of Rs. 8.00 lakh or less may be retained. In other words only those
families who annual income is upto Rs 8 Lakh would be eligible to get the benefit of EWS reservation. The definition of
‘family’ and income would remain same as those in the OM dated 17th January 2019.
(ii) EWS may, however exclude, irrespective of income, a person whose family has 5 acres of agricultural land and above.
(iii) The residential asset criteria may altogether be removed.
Revised criteria from next year
The Committee has also opined that disturbing the existing system which is on-going since 2019 at the fag end would create
more complications than expected both for the beneficiaries as well as for the authorities. In this regard the Committee
has recommended introducing the new criteria from the next academic year.
“Under these circumstances, it is completely unadvisable and impractical to apply the new criteria (which are being
recommended in this report) and change the goal post in the midst of the ongoing processes resulting in inevitable delay
and avoidable complications. When the existing system is ongoing from 2019, no serious prejudice would be caused if it
continues for this year as well. Changing the criteria midway is also bound to result in spate Of litigations In various courts
across the country by the people/persons whose eligibility would change suddenly.
The Committee, therefore, after analysing the pros and cons on this issue and after giving serious consideration,
recommends that the existing and on- going criteria in every on-going process where EWS reservation is available, be
continued and the criteria recommended in this Report may be made applicable from next advertisement/admission
cycle,” Committee had said the report in this regards.
Based on the recommendations, the Central Government has agreed to accept the Committee’s recommendations
including the recommendation of applying the new criteria prospectively.
It may be noted that resident doctors across the country had launched protests across the country recently against the
delay in NEET-PG counselling. The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear the case on January 6.
2. State schemes can cast a lifeline to this welfare plan
UPSC Syllabus: Mains: GS Paper 2: Polity & Governance
Sub Theme: Critical Analysis of PMMVY | UPSC
India accounts for a fifth of the total childbirths in the world, with a decline in maternal mortality ratio.
The Office of the Registrar General’s Sample Registration System (SRS) has released a special bulletin on Maternal Mortality
in India 2016-18. As per the Survey the Maternal Mortality Ratio has declined to 113 in 2016-18 from 122 in 2015-17 and
130 in 2014-2016.
Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana (PMMVY)
On January 1, 2017, the Government rolled out the Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana (PMMVY), where a ‘cash
incentive of ₹5,000 is provided directly to the bank/post office account of pregnant women and lactating mothers for the
first living child of the family, subject to fulfilling specific conditions:
• Excluding PW&LM who are in regular employment with the Central Government or the State Governments or
PSUs or those who are in receipt of similar benefits under any law for the time being in force.
• In case of miscarriage/still birth, the beneficiary would be eligible to claim the remaining instalment(s) in event of
any future pregnancy.
In case of infant mortality, she will not be eligible for claiming benefits under the scheme, if she has already
received all the instalments of the maternity benefit under PMMVY earlier.
Performance evaluation of Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana
Since its inception, the PMMVY has covered 2.01 crore women nationally, disbursing a total amount of ₹8,722 crore.
Exclusion of beneficiaries: While the estimated eligible population of pregnant and lactating mothers in India was 128.7
lakh for 2017-18 (as in a report by the Centre for Policy Research 2019-20), the target set by the Government was 51.70
lakh beneficiaries, which is only 40% of the eligible population.
Ineffective implementation: According to data published by the Ministry of Women and Child Development, enrolment
and payouts under the plan have decreased in the previous two years. In 2020-21, more than 50% of registered
beneficiaries did not receive all three instalments and there was a 9% drop in enrolment under the scheme.
Improper Implementation: More than half of registered beneficiaries did not receive all three instalments in 2020-21,
resulting in a 9% decline in participation in the plan.
Budget cuts: For 2021-22, the entire budget for women’s and children’s development has been cut by 20%. Additionally,
budget allocation for the PMMVY has been reduced as it has been combined with many other programmes under
SAMARTHYA along with multiple other schemes such as Beti Bachao Beti Padhao, Mahila Shakti Kendra and Gender
- Extend the PMMVY maternity benefit to the second live birth.
- Include all live births in the maternity benefit coverage, especially for women in the unorganized sector who are more vulnerable to economic shocks and nutrition loss.
- Examine the amount of the maternity benefit and consider increasing it.
- Pregnant and breastfeeding mothers should get 12 weeks of pay compensation totalling to Rs. 15,000 in accordance with the Maternity Benefit Act of 1961, which stipulates 12 weeks of maternity leave for women with two or more children.
- Reduce the number of steps and ensure easy access to the scheme.
3. HC allows woman to terminate 28-week pregnancy
UPSC Syllabus: Mains: GS Paper 2- Polity & Governance
Sub Theme: Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 | UPSC
- The Delhi High Court on Monday granted permission to a woman to terminate her 28-week pregnancy after AIIMS medical board said her foetus can be aborted as it suffered from anencephaly, a condition where the skull bone is not formed.
What are current laws currently governing termination of pregnancy?
Before 1971, abortion was criminalized under Section 312 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, describing it as intentionally ‘causing miscarriage’.
The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 allows for aborting the pregnancy by medical doctors (with specified specialisation) on certain grounds.
- A pregnancy maybe be terminated up to 12 weeks based on the opinion of one doctor, and up to 20 weeks based on the opinion of two doctors.
- Termination is permitted only when continuance of the pregnancy would involve a risk to the life of the pregnant woman, cause grave injury to her mental or physical health (including rape and failure of birth control measures), or in the case of foetal abnormalities.
- Termination is also allowed at any point during the pregnancy if there is an immediate necessity to save the woman’s life.
Abortion laws and facts:
Abortion laws vary across the world. It is learnt that around 60 countries prescribe gestational limits.
- 52 % including France, the UK, Austria, Ethiopia, Italy, Spain, Iceland, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Switzerland and even Nepal, allow for termination beyond 20 weeks on the diagnosis of foetal abnormalities.
- Some countries go beyond even these limits with laws in 23 countries-Canada, Germany, Vietnam, Denmark, Ghana, and Zambia-allowing for abortion at any time during the pregnancy on the request of the mother.
- Despite a sustained government push over years, contraceptive use in Indiais not very popular. According to a 2018 study by the Guttmacher Institute, 50% of pregnancies in six of the larger Indian states — Assam, Bihar, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh — are unintended.
- Data from the National Family Health Survey 4 show that just 8% of couplesin the country use modern contraceptive methods; only 53% use any method at all.
- There is an abortion rate of 47 per 1,000 women aged 15-49.
- A number of foetus abnormalities are detected after the 20th week. Usually, the foetal anomaly scan is done during the 20th-21st week of pregnancy. If there is a delay in doing this scan, and it reveals a lethal anomaly in the foetus, 20 weeks period is limiting.
The Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Bill, 2020 was introduced in Lok Sabha on March 2, 2020 and passed on March 17, 2020.
- It amends the Act to increase the upper limit for termination from 20 to 24 weeks for certain categories of women, removes this limit in the case of substantial foetal abnormalities, and constitutes Medical Boards at the state-level.
- The Statement of Objects and Reasons of the Bill states that several cases have been filed before the Supreme Court and various High Courts seeking permission for aborting pregnancies at stages beyond the 20-weeks limit under the Act, on the grounds of foetal abnormalities or pregnancies due to rape faced by women.
- It also states that with the advancement of medical technology, there is a scope to increase the upper limit for terminating pregnancies especially for vulnerable women, and in cases of severe foetal abnormality.
Time since conception Requirement for terminating pregnancy MTP Act , 1971 MTP (Amendment) Bill, 2020 Up to 12 weeks Advice of one doctor Advice of one doctor 12 to 20 weeks Advice of two doctors Advice of one doctor 20 to 24 weeks Not allowed Two doctors for some categories of pregnant women More than 24 weeks Not allowed Medical Board in case of substantial foetal abnormality Any time during the pregnancy One doctor, if immediately necessary to save pregnant woman’s life
Key Issues and Analysis:
There are differing opinions with regard to allowing abortions. One opinion is that terminating a pregnancy is the choice of the pregnant woman, and a part of her reproductive rights. The other is that the state has an obligation to protect life, and hence should provide for the protection of the foetus. Across the world, countries set varying conditions and time limits for allowing abortions, based on foetal health, and risk to the pregnant woman.
Several Writ Petitions have been filed by women seeking permission to abort pregnancies beyond 20-weeks due to foetal abnormalities or rape. The Bill allows abortion after 24 weeks only in cases where a Medical Board diagnoses substantial foetal abnormalities. This implies that for a case requiring abortion due to rape, that exceeds 24-weeks, the only recourse remains through a Writ Petition.
The Bill does not specify the categories of women who may terminate pregnancies between 20-24 weeks and leaves it to be prescribed through Rules. It may be argued that such matters should be specified by Parliament and not delegated to the government.
The Act (and the Bill) require abortion to be performed only by doctors with specialisation in gynaecology or obstetrics. As there is a 75% shortage of such doctors in community health centers in rural areas, pregnant women may continue to find it difficult to access facilities for safe abortions.
Though Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Bill, 2020 is a step in the right direction, the government needs to ensure that all norms and standardised protocols in clinical practice to facilitate abortions are followed in health care institutions across the country.
4. From selective to universal engagement
UPSC Syllabus: Mains: GS Paper 2- International Relations
Sub Theme: India’s Foreign Policy Challenges in 2022 | UPSC
- To get China to disengage in areas in Ladakh.
- Dialogue, military preparedness and economic pressure met with limited success. The sooner we achieve disengagement in the remaining sectors, the better it will be for India to be more effective in the other areas of concern. Much of the time for dialogue with others must have been spent on establishing the rationale of our position on the border.
- China has not shown willingness to disengage in Ladakh and withdraw to the previous positions behind the Line of Actual Control. But the expectation is that China will take a more reasonable approach once the current convulsions end with the beginning of another term for President Xi Jinping. He cannot afford to show any sign of weakness in his external and internal policies at this critical time.
- The Taliban’s capture of Kabul
- India appeared to be the sole defender of the Americans against Pakistan, China, Iran, Russia and others. Bringing some civility to the Taliban in Kabul became a high priority in the face of a Pakistan-China-Taliban axis with some support from Russia and Iran.
- Wherever the Prime Minister and EAM appeared either in person or on virtual platforms, priority was given to Afghanistan and anti-terrorism rather than Chinese expansionism.
- As for Afghanistan, the haul may be longer, given the stubbornness of the Taliban and its proclivity to endanger its own people for the purity of faith. The international community is already moving in the direction of rescuing the regime by providing humanitarian assistance even without any change in the repressive regime. India has a formidable challenge in Afghanistan, regardless of its open and universal engagement with all concerned. But India’s new style of diplomacy will have an impact in shaping the world of the future.
Important events of 2021
- Climate change
- India threatened to stand out of the line on the matter of net-zero emission target years, but succumbed to the pressure to commit more on promoting renewable energy and phasing down of coal.
- The Foreign Secretary’s visit to Myanmar to engage the military junta at a time when Aung San Suu Kyi and other opposition leaders are in prison may raise eyebrows in many countries, but this is another instance of India’s readiness to engage those in power to explore possibilities of friendship and co-operation. The intention is to prevent China from having a field day in Myanmar.
- India gave particular importance to its presidency of the UN Security Council in August 2021.
- Unprecedented in the history of the UN, an event at the Security Council was chaired by the Prime Minister. India also brought global issues of particular importance to the agenda of the month.
- Significant inputs were provided during discussions on issues like maritime security, peacekeeping and anti-terrorism for active consideration in the future.
- Although it is illusory to believe that the way has been cleared for India’s permanent membership of the Security Council, India’s diplomatic capabilities and its commitment to the UN were demonstrated yet again.