Reservations, The Way Ahead
It’s often said that public has a short term memory. In India, policy of reservations has successfully defied this notion. Some thing or the other keeps popping up in the news every few days. So, what’s exactly reservations all about?
Reservations were envisaged by the founding fathers of the constitution as means to reverse the ill effects of the historical suppression of the lower classes of society by the upper class. They envisioned equality in the constitution as Equality among Equals. Keeping this view in mind, it’s not difficult to see that the lower classes needed a push and this is how Reservation Policy came around.
Not going into the political nature of the issue, the reservation was extended to the Other Backward Classes by VP Singh govt on the recommendation of Mandal Commission. After a subsequent Supreme Court judgement, the current status on caste based reservation is as follows:
- 15% for SCs
- 7.5% for STs
- 27% for OBCs – Non Creamy Layer
This reservation is with respect to access to seats in the different legislatures, government jobs, and to enrolment in higher educational institutions.
Ever since OBCs have received reservations, the general population have, time and again, vocally protested against the policy for obvious reasons. After realising that reservation policy wouldn’t end so easily, many castes have often agitated for reservation for themselves.
In light of the present situation, keeping the impact of the policy and changing times into view, one needs to critically examine the policy now. Taking the broader issue first. Should the policy be ended?
I believe this would be a bad idea. Taking “Roti, Kapda aur makaan” as still the basic needs, lets look into few numbers to see why.
- Literacy Rate for SCs and STs stood at 62% compared to the national average of 73% in 2009-10. In 1961, the respective numbers were 8.5% and 28.3%
- Poverty: While around 42% of the rural population was poor, around 47% STs, 37% SCs, 28% OBCs and 16% from the general category were poor in 2004-05. In 1993-94, the numbers were 37.3% (total), 53% (STs) and 48% (SCs) src: http://www.nird.org.in/Rural%20Development%20Statistics%202011-12/data/sec-10.pdf
The above numbers make two things very clear. Firstly, reservation policy has been successful. The beneficiaries have taken advantage of the policy to make it into the mainstream. Secondly, there is a need to continue the policy as there is still a stark difference between different sections.
However, the policy in its current form seems inefficient. Something is definitely out of place when a policy isn’t able to give the desired results in a span of over 70 years. This brings us back to the first intervention made by the Supreme Court when policy was extended to OBCs. SC introduced the concept of Non Creamy Layer, thereby excluding the economically and administratively inclusive sections of OBCs from the umbrella of reservations.
I believe same should be extended to SCs and STs. In the present form, it’s major beneficiaries are those sections of SCs and STs whose previous generations were benefited by the policy. Taking creamy layer out of the umbrella would give better opportunities to those sections of societies who really need it, making the policy more efficient. Even the general population criticises the policy when they see those unworthy of it, taking advantage of reservations.
Some might argue that reservations should be made for economically weaker sections of the societies but this argument doesn’t really stand ground. Reservation is an Indian Jugaad to uplift the suppressed “castes” of societies to reverse the effects of “their historical suppression”. To cater to the economically weak sections of society, government has several measures in place. This said, economic inequalities are bound to remain in every society no matter what you do. Compromising meritocracy for achieving economic equality is undesirable in a liberal society.
Thus, a more robust policy, where only the needy get the benefits, would help the policy achieve its goals and I don’t see a better way than extending the principle of Non Creamy Layer to the policy of reservations to make it robust.