The focus of major mass protests and youth movements in the recent years has been demand for reservation. Marathas are pitching for reservations in Maharashtra, Patidars are seeking reservation in Gujarat and there have been violent protests by Jats in Haryana and Rajasthan for seeking reservation under the OBC category.
In the run-up to the general election Modi government has pushed forward a new reservation law in place that seeks to provide 10 per cent reservation for ‘economically weaker section’. Only general caste person with income more than R8 lakh per year or who have land holding of more than 5 acres are excluded from the reservation. Nearly 99 per cent population is now covered under one or other form of reservation. This means almost everyone in the country is marginalised. There is growing competition to get in the category of marginalised.
Modi government’s decision to provide 10 per cent reservation to economically weaker sections from the general category has stirred new debates and demands for quotas across the country.
Reservation in India used to be provided on the basis of castes. For the first time, Modi Government pushed for reservations on the basis of economic conditions. M Ramachandran, former Secretary, Government of India, said with the implementation of new reservation law now almost entire population of the country is covered under one or other form of quota.
Under the 124th Constitutional Amendment enacted in January 2019, 10 per cent seats in government jobs and across educational institutions, run or funded by the government, will be reserved for economically weaker section of the general category. The quota will be over and above the existing 50 per cent reservation to SCs, STs and Other Backward Classes (OBCs). Article 15 of the Constitution has been amended. A new clause is added in Article 15 that allows states to make “special provision for the advancement of any economically weaker section of citizens”.
The new move of the Modi government gives us an opportunity to introspect, whether the quota policy followed by successive governments over the past several decades had yielded the desired result. “We as Indians should seek to ask if caste is still an effective proxy for social disadvantage in 2019 or we should look at something more direct; like income or household income,” said Rohan Kochhar, Director, Public Policy, SKOCH Group.
Ashwani Mahajan, National Co-Convenor of Swadeshi Jagran Manch, said the reservation and development policy followed by the government has failed to yield desired results. “We have been saying for a long time that the development model is flawed and leading to more marginalisation.”
He further said, wealth is now getting accumulated in the hands of industrialists as a result poor remain poor. “In 1991, the share of profits was 19 per cent of the value addition. Today it is 52 per cent,” Mahajan noted.
“Legal provisions of reservation were started as temporary provisions, which continued and now everyone is asking for it, as if it’s a right,” said V N Alok, Professor at Indian Institute of Public Administration (IIPA).
However, Aasha Kapur Mehta, visiting professor, Institute for Human Development and former professor, Indian Institute of Public Administration, emphasised that reservation cannot be aspirational. “Reservation cannot be an aspiration. It is a means to something that you want,” she said.
According to Soma Wadhwa, fellow, India Development Foundation, reservation is required to ensure fair representation. “Reservation should be for the people who need it in terms of representation, for instance, women in Parliament or the disabled,” she said. However, she called for caution. “Till we have reservation for any category that is manipulable, it is going to be aspirational,” she added.
The principle of equality permeates the Constitution of India. All the citizens are entitled to be treated by the state equally, irrespective of their caste, race, religion, sex, descent, place of birth and residence. Reservation is an exception. Originally in the constitution exceptions to the principle of equality were made in favour of four classes:
Women and children in general, i.e., belonging to all social groups and all the strata of the society regardless of class, caste, race, religion etc.
The socially and educationally backward classes;
The Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes; and,
The ‘weaker sections’, which, in particular, include the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes for promoting with special care their educational and economic interests and to protect them from social injustice and all forms of exploitation.
Constitution makers had agreed that the reservation provided for certain class would be discontinued 10-years after the adoption of the Constitution. By that premise the reservation should have ended in 1960. But, it has not only continued for almost seven decades but getting bigger and more complicated over the years.
After the new provisions of providing the reservation to economically weaker section of the general category, now 99 per cent of the population is entitled for reservation. Can it be called an exception to the principle of equality as envisioned in the Constitution? The answer seems, no. Ninety nine per cent population can’t be exception!
Reservation is provided to Scheduled Castes (SCs), Scheduled Tribes (STs) and Other Backward Classes (OBCs) at the rate of 15 per cent, 7.5 per cent and 27 per cent respectively in case of direct recruitment on all India basis by open competition. In case of direct recruitment on all India basis otherwise than by open competition, the percentage fixed is 16.66 per cent for SCs, 7.5 per cent for STs and 25.84 per cent for OBCs.
In case of direct recruitment to Group C posts normally attracting candidates from a locality or a region, the percentage of reservation for SC/ST/OBC is generally fixed on the basis of proportion of their population in the respective States/Union Territories.
With the enactment of ‘The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016’, reservation is also provided to Persons with Benchmark Disabilities against the posts and services of the Central Government at 4 per cent of the total number of vacancies to be filled up by direct recruitment in the cadre strength in each group of posts, i.e., Group A, B and C.
As per Ex-servicemen (Re-employment in Central Services and Posts) Rules, 1979, as amended from time to time, 10 per cent of the vacancies in the posts upto of the level of the Assistant Commandant in all para-military forces; 10 per cent of the vacancies in Group C posts; and 20 per cent of the vacancies in Group D posts, to be filled by direct recruitment shall be reserved for ex-servicemen.
The persons belonging to Economically Weaker Sections (EWSs), who are not covered under the scheme of reservation for SCs, STs and OBCs shall get 10 per cent reservation in direct recruitment in civil posts and services in the Government of India, as per the new law.
The new provision on reservation pushed forward by Modi government has given rise to new dimension in the reservation debate. Earlier the reservation was on the basis of “Class” and not “Individual”. It was meant for socially and educationally backward. At present, economic backwardness has come into the picture as also the individual. Now economically backward individual of any class is entitled for reservation.
However, analysts argue that broadening the basis of reservation would not solve the serious problem of backwardness and growing inequality in the society. “If a community feels left out, they take to the streets and revolt for economic and social empowerment,” said Shehzad Jai Hind.
“Giving reservation to everyone is not going to solve any problem,” said Laveesh Bhandari, Economist. “Reservation is like cancer, which does not show up early but eats up the efficiency of the state,” Bhandari added.