Who’s ‘poor’? Income criteria could queer quota pitch

Tina Edwin New Delhi | Updated on January 13, 2019 Published on January 13, 2019

By raising income cap 2.6 times, 90% of tax filers will come within EWS fold

The NDA government’s decision to create a 10 per cent quota in educational institutions and government jobs for those with an annual income of up to ₹8 lakh is set to become controversial over the change in the defining criteria for the economically weaker section.

By setting the income cap this high, the Centre has sought to divide the citizens into two broad groups: those with an annual household income of more than ₹8 lakh constitute the creamy layer, and everyone below that limit is economically weak.

Until now, those with an annual household income of up to ₹3 lakh were generally considered part of the economically weaker section (EWS), particularly for welfare schemes, such as housing in urban areas under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana.

Those with an annual household income between ₹3 lakh and ₹6 lakh were the low-income group (LIG). That income definition is also used by the RBI to identify those eligible for priority sector lending for EWS and LIG houses.

The expansion of the definition of EWS, by increasing the income cap by 2.6 times, could bring about 90 per cent of income-tax payers into its fold, if the return filers data are used as the base. These are people employed in the formal sector.



Umbrella definition

The expansion thus brings into its fold BPL citizens, those working at subsistence income, as well as the better-off, who have had access to good quality education. Between one-fourth and one-fifth of India’s population lives below the poverty line, depending on which estimates of poverty line is used.

A rural household of five, with monthly expenditure below ₹4,080, at 2011-12 prices, is determined to be living below the poverty line, according to the official definition.

The corresponding number for urban areas is ₹5,000. Per official estimates, over 25 per cent of rural households and about 14 per cent of urban households live Below the Poverty Line.

Varying criteria

The existing EWS and LIG income criteria do not apply for entitlements under the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Rules, which allow children from poor families to seek admission in privately run schools. Rather, the criteria vary from State to State though the objective is to give access to better education to children from economically weaker sections.

A few States have income criteria to determine which students will be entitled to admission under the 25 per cent quota for EWS, but many others have no criteria.

The cut-off varies from ₹40,000 in Manipur and Nagaland to ₹3.5 lakh in Karnataka.

A few States extend that entitlement to children from families that are on the Below the Poverty Line (BPL) list.

Published on January 13, 2019
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