'Creamy layer' represents the income ceiling that bars OBCs earning higher from availing reservations in jobs and education. It has gone up since being introduced at Rs 1 lakh in 1993, and was revised to Rs 2.5 lakh in 2004 and Rs 4.5 lakh in 2008.

The Centre is also likely to keep a unified 'creamy layer' for urban and rural areas, contrary to separate classifications suggested by NCBC.

The government's conservative approach, as opposed to NCBC's activism, seems dictated by concerns that allowing OBCs with Rs 1 lakh monthly salary to avail quotas would trigger criticism that 'creamy layer' had virtually been give a go-by. 'Creamy layer' is embedded in Mandal Commission following Indira Sawhney judgement which adjudicated on the constitutionality of OBC reservations.

Though significantly below the NCBC's suggestion, the revised 'creamy layer' may still be enough to please OBC leaders who have resented the bar on quota benefits. While the aggressive Mandal satraps have not been able to tinker with 'creamy layer' because of judicial imprimatur on it, they made a strong bid to keep 'creamy layer' out when UPA-1 introduced backward quota in central educational institutions. The move failed in view of the hostility that HRD ministry's 2007 quota proposal faced and invited judicial intervention.

The income ceiling that government is mulling — to be finalized soon followed by approval of the Union Cabinet — is sure to disappoint the NCBC that strongly pushed for a three-fold leap from Rs 4.5 lakh to Rs 12 lakh.

The backward panel, headed by M N Rao, argued that affirmative action revolves around social discrimination and economic advancement alone could not determine social advancement. Quoting Supreme Court judgements on 'creamy layer', he said the basis of exclusion (from quotas) could be economic only if financial advancement was high enough to translate into social progress.

Rao recommended that Rs 12 lakh annual income be the 'creamy layer' ceiling in urban centres and Rs 9 lakh in rural areas.

Realizing that its argument for quantum hike would raise eyebrows, the Commission cited the low share of OBCs in Central services to argue that unrealistic income bar had kept the bulk of aspirants out of quota benefits. It said the OBC aggregate at the Centre was only 7% — Group A (5.5%), Group B (3.9%), Group C (8.1%) and Group D (5%).


The Commission also argued that figures from the Union ministry of statistics showed that value of Rs 100 in 1993 has dwindled to Rs 29 in 2011, which made income limits like Rs 4.5 lakh redundant.


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