Reservation-And The Debate Around It


After suffering major defeat in the 2015 assembly elections in Bihar and Delhi, the BJP led NDA government in Gujarat is leaving no stone unturned to win back its voter base in the state. The state of Gujarat is due to face the assembly elections in 2017.

The Patidar agitation for reservation in education and jobs resurfaced in April, spurred by the latest decision to extend reservation benefits to Jats in the BJP led Haryana. The Gujarat government has decided to extend 10% quotas for the economically backward among those belonging to the upper castes. An ordinance to this effect will be promulgated soon and those earning less than six lakhs per annum will be considered eligible.

The state already gives 49% reservation to the people belonging to the OBCs, SCs and STs. The total quota benefits thus add up to 59% which is in clear violation of the Supreme Court verdict in the Indra Sawhney vs Union of India, 1992. The apex court in 1992 laid down a limit of 50%, above which no state could provide for reservations; with the only exception of Tamil Nadu. A constitutional Amendment in 1994, allowed Tamil Nadu to have 69% seats reserved in employment and educational institutions. In 2013, the Tamil Nadu govt. clearly justified its reservation policy by stating that backward classes in the state constitute 87% of the population. To bring about parity among the equals and the unequals, increasing the reservation quotas for equal opportunities in public employment and education was thus an essential requirement.

Article 16 in the Constitution of India guarantees equality of opportunity for all citizens in matters relating to employment or appointment to any office under the State. It also states that, ”  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 or, any employment or office under the State”. But there is a reasonable restriction on the enjoyment of this fundamental right. Article 16 (4) also states,” Nothing in this article shall prevent the State from making any provision for the reservation of appointments or posts in favor of any backward class of citizens which, in the opinion of the State, is not adequately represented in the services under the State”. Reservation as a policy has been there for many years to make up for the discrimination that a large section of the population suffered at the hands of the so-called upper castes. This discrimination, especially in the form of untouchability, culminated in their backwardness due to a lack of level playing field. They lagged behind both socially as well as economically. This warranted the need for a provision in the constitution to safeguard their interest.

Though this policy cannot be altogether done away with, keeping in mind the interest of underprivileged and our historical obligation to help them achieve parity and a level playing field with others. But there is a dire need to rationalize this policy so that the really deserving candidates from the general category are not disappointed. Meritorious students from the general category tend to migrate to other countries in search of better opportunities leading to a loss of a large pool of talent. Or they may even develop resentment against those eligible for reservation.This is what happened in the Patidar agitation where the relatively well off community demanded for similar benefits and created chaos.

The creamy layer among the other backward classes (OBCs) should not be included in the reservation net as they have already gained from the policy. Both economic as well as social factors need to be taken into consideration while making policies. Children of people holding government jobs and belonging to the SCs and STs should be dereserved.

The National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC) was formed as a permanent body in pursuance of the National Commission for Backward Classes Act, 1993. It’s function is to entertain, examine and recommend upon requests for inclusion and complaints of over inclusion in the list of OBCs. The list of the OBCs should be reviewed more frequently by the NCBC to eliminate the undeserving candidates.

The government should work towards providing free and compulsory good quality education to all so that the economically weaker sections benefit. But since this is difficult to implement keeping in view the lack of resources, reservations should be given to only those actually in need of it and not to gain political clout. This policy has for long helped millions to rise from their state of misery and deprivation and as the number of people coming out of poverty increases, they should be increasingly removed from the purview of reservation. The quotas should be gradually reduced as more and more people benefit and it is hoped that in the future we do not require this policy anymore!!

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