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Reversing Quota Policy Sc Explodes Silent Bomb!

Updated: May 19, 2012 3:50 pm

Last week the Supreme Court (SC) passed a judgment that could alter the very nature of Indian politics. The Allahabad High Court had upheld the decision of the Mayawati government to grant reservation in promotions to all the reserved categories among government employees. The SC overruled the Allahabad High Court. It declared that there could be no reservation in promotions. The judgment came in response to petitions by associations of government employees against the High Court ruling of 2011. The apex court said that the decision of the Uttar Pradesh government was ultra vires of the Constitution and the benefit of reservation may be available only at the time of recruitment. The SC ruling in the Mandal Commission case had made clear that the quota was a one time benefit.

The latest judgment was overdue. But it is only the first small step. The SC has merely opened the door to a full reappraisal of the entire quota policy pursued by governments. If reservation for promotion violates the Constitution and the SC negates the High Court ruling, why should reservation for recruitment be within the Constitution, and why should SC not review its own endorsement of reserved recruitment? If caste bias and inadequate representation justifies reserved recruitment, the same bias and inadequate representation in the upper echelons of the bureaucracy should justify reserved promotion. As I had pointed out earlier reservation for Other Backward Classes (OBC) tramples on the spirit of the Constitution. The government resorted to semantic jugglery to circumvent the Constitution and justify job reservation for OBCs. The SC regrettably endorsed the government’s decision.

Clause 2 of Article 16 of the Constitution states: “No citizen shall, on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, descent, place of birth, residence or any of them, be ineligible for, or discriminated against in respect of, any employment or office under the State.” The government seized on the word “only” to twist the meaning of this Clause. It cleverly interpreted it to mean that these criteria were a disqualification for reservation only if these existed in isolation. By adding other criteria such as economic status, property ownership and the like, and by giving weight to each criterion, and then by giving preponderant weight to the caste criterion, the government succeeded in making caste synonymous with class.

That enabled the government to exploit Clause 4 of the same Article 16 of the Constitution to give reservation on the basis of caste. Clause 4 of Article 16 states: “Nothing in this article shall prevent the State from making any provision for the reservation of appointments or posts in favour of any backward class of citizens, which, in the opinion of the State, is not adequately represented in the services under the State.” It might be mentioned in passing that by the same logic and methodology adopted to grant caste-based reservation, job quotas on the basis of religion and gender would be equally justified.

Reservation for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (SC and ST) was introduced in the Constitution for a period of ten years only. Reservation for these categories was justified because the scourge of untouchability rendered affirmative action imperative. However after six decades should not this policy also be reviewed? Atrocities against Dalits have not decreased. Most reserved quotas for them remain unfilled because there is not sufficient number of qualified Dalits to avail the benefits of reservation. This happens because free primary education does not exist to enable them to become qualified. Creating free primary education, which is financially feasible, does not interest any political party. The status quo suits politicians. It allows them to create vote banks by scattering empty promises and hopes among the deprived sections much in the manner that small coins may be thrown at squabbling beggars.

Many members of the forward castes complain bitterly against the job reservation policy. But the worst victims of the reservation policy are members of the backward and scheduled castes. Their future is destroyed by the failure to provide them educational facilities. The discrimination they suffer due to their respective castes is heightened by the reservation policy which fuels resentment against them among forward castes. All that the reservation policy has achieved is to splinter society into thousands of small castes and sub-castes which are subtly encouraged to become antagonistic and mutually hostile by dangling quotas for too few jobs for too many people who are too unqualified to accept them. In order to end caste and community discrimination would it not be better to introduce reservation in selection boards to make them representative of castes and communities? That would end complaints about bias without dividing society. The only beneficiaries of current policy are the politicians belonging to the various castes who obtain ready made vote banks based upon caste. These politicians develop a vested interest in the continued backwardness of their own communities towards whom they display unbridled cynicism and lack of concern for their genuine welfare.

I may recall that when the late Kanshi Ram first entered politics and formed the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), before Miss Mayawati had entered the scene, I had the opportunity to interact closely with him. Kanshi Ram was firmly against any reservation for Dalits. He considered political and financial power for his community the only worthwhile solution to end discrimination and deprivation. We both agreed that with by far the largest all India community of around 18 percent, achieving the potential power of the Dalits required merely effective politics. Kanshi Ram did not in the time available to him succeed in exploiting the nationwide political potential of Dalit power. He remained confined to Uttar Pradesh and marginally to Punjab. We drifted apart. I do not know how the current policy of the BSP regarding reservation evolved. But in terms of real material welfare for the Dalit community it has little to show.

India needs a new approach in a new century. The quota policy is unworkable when there are more than 3000 recognized castes in India. Poor people need access to education. Bright students among them need affirmative action by the state on the basis of their records. The enormous talent and genius of the Indian people will take care of the rest. The welcome judgment of the SC ruling reservation in promotion to be ultra vires of the Constitution needs to be followed up with a review petition seeking reversal of the earlier SC judgment on job quotas. India must halt its rapid degeneration into a tribal society. The Indian nation desperately needs a modern, united society capable of effectively meeting global challenges.

 By Rajinder Puri

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