Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Revisiting the Reservations


Dr. Duggaraju Srinivasa Rao

Over the years the offering of reservations became the standard approach of the political parties to appease different demanding communities ignoring constitutional position and judicial decisions. Thus Congress in Andhra Pradesh offered 12% reservations for Muslims, BJP in Rajasthan promised ST status to Gujjars and Marathas were given 15% reservations in Maharashtra. Most of those promises and resolutions in state assemblies were struck down by courts.  The latest issue of Maratha reservations has reached Supreme Court and it decided to revisit the reservation policy.

The main contention in the present case is whether the quantum reservations can exceed beyond the capped 50% limit as specified by the SC in the Indira Sawhney case of 1992.  The current five member bench has decided to hear all the States on the 50% reservation cap order and those States which responded has already favoured removal of the cap and other ruling parties may submit similar affidavits. However the current bench of 5 judges can’t override the earlier judgment of 9 judges, this petition may ultimately have go to a larger bench of 11 judge. However, during the preliminary hearings the judges have raised pertinent questions and made some critical comments on reservations and they can be discussed in the public and may be such a debate in the society is the intention of the learned judges of Supreme Court.

The bench said the 70 years have passed since we became republic and the governments have carried out so many beneficial schemes for the needy and then wondered whether there was no development has taken place which made not  a single backward caste be moved to forward caste. The second question the SC bench asked was “how many generations would reservations in jobs and education continue?”  The highest court then questioned whether the demand for increasing the reservations from the existing 50% will not result in ‘inequality’ in the society. The five judge bench headed by Justice Ashok Bhushan while conceding the “reservations are policy matters and are under the domain of Parliament as well as the Legislature” made an oral observation saying “that this could be the beginning of all reservations going, with only quota for economically weaker sections remaining”.

When constitution of India was enacted the mandate was to build a caste less, egalitarian secular society. But with unbridled appeasement policies towards castes and religions by parties and governments, India ended as a 70 year old Republic, with increased caste barriers, enhanced role of caste khaps, fatwas dominating the civil courts, rigid religious groups building a ghetto mentality in the society. This is completely the anti-thesis of what the framers of the constitution visualized.

In that backdrop the questions posed and observations made by SC bench a debate and discussion by various persons representing different fields started appearing in various media. Though their opinions are diametrically opposite, they worth considering.

 Justice H. N. Nagamohan Das, a retired High Court of judge of Karnataka, who headed the commission to look into the demand for increasing the reservation percentage for scheduled castes and scheduled tribes has said that “the entire reservation policy  need to be rewritten. It should be done scientifically after holding extensive discussions”. As per him the reservation policy, in the recent past, became irrelevant especially in employment. Since the jobs in the public sector are shrinking, large number of posts in government offices remained unfilled and the private sector became the major employer the people are clamoring for reservations in the jobs in private sector and that demand when not conceded may result in high level of friction among different communities.

Yogendra Yadav, the academician turned politician, is all for OBC count. He wants caste census of OBC to focus on all the details as was done with SC and ST populations regarding educational gender details of each caste from each district. This information, he believe, will go a long way in evolving and fine tuning evidence based social policies. This could also bring down street avoidable fights over which caste should get or not get reservations.

Many believe that such a national level caste detailed survey is the starting point for overhaul of the reservation policy. However none of those pro-reservation activists are ready for the review of the existing reservation polices and the benefits accrued through them. Justice H.N. Nagamohan Das in his report has shown, with data, how the OBC reservations are garnered by some castes leaving some of their own OBC brethren far behind. The castes or families which reaped the benefit of education, got into employment through that reservation policy have consolidated those benefits for their own families. There are some families which enjoyed the reservation benefits for three generation and there are other, though belonging to same OBC, who failed to enjoy the reservation facility not even once. This resulted in a huge social inequality even among those OBCs which not many community leaders are ready to concede. Even the political field is dominated by certain communities which happened to be the ‘early birds’ in the reservations category. While OBC are divided into categories the demand for such categorization is also coming from SC communities. It is a fact that in each state one particular SC community is dominating in education and jobs at the expense of other SC communities which are relatively lower in societal position.

There are certain flaws in the existing reservation policy. It is allowing those communities basing on the officially recorded SC status despite their changed faith thus hitting the chances of SC communities which remained in Hindu fold. Then there are some families which has risen to very high place in the society, utilizing the reservations, like the cabinet ministers, highly placed central officers, had better means to educate their wards still enjoying the benefits of reservations.

The elimination of ‘creamy layer’ in OBC’s is an accepted norm and that may have to extend even to SC communities. Reservations may have to be restricted for one or two generations in a family as they have reached the level playing field in the society through education and employment. That is the only way where all the SC communities will get benefits of the reservations. Now that SC has chosen to revisit the reservations let us hope that the larger bench will take all the concerns in the reservations into consideration.

(Author is retired professor and occasional contributor for dailies and magazines on politics and environmental issues. The views expressed are personal opinion of the author. He can be reached at [email protected])

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