lawyers in India

Review of Reservation Policy

Written by: Tapan Narayana - Hidayatullah National Law University, Raipur
Partnership laws in India
Legal Service
  • I would start my paper by pointing out the historical reasons for giving reservation. The reservation policy in India is nothing new, as it had existed in our society from the time of the British rule and the princely states. The motive of having reservation then was the eagerness to modernise through the promotion of education and industry and maintaining unity among themselves. Reservation continued in India even after having achieved independence from the British. But there is an interesting fact that needs to be seen, that is the inclusion of provisions of reservation in the Constitution of India based on caste in educational institutions was after the intervention of the Supreme Court in the case of State of Madras v. Champakam Dorairajan where the court struck down the classification for reservation being based on caste, race and religion for the purpose of admission to educational institutions as unconstitutional.

    How far has this reservation policy succeeded is a question that always lingers in my mind. The easiest possible criticism of the existing reservation policy is the creamy layer among the backward classes having benefited by availing the reservation while the actual benefits have never percolated to the needy. So my argument would be the strengthening of the government schools which are in a very bad shape, which in itself would enable the providing of a level playing field to the backward classes.

    Why is it that the government tries to evade its duty of providing quality education in government schools, and take that as an excuse for providing reservation to the backward class, which is a populist policy thereby garnering votes for themselves. After reservation being given in higher education and having reserved jobs for the backward classes in the public sector now the debate is for giving reservation even in the private sector. So why is it that it has reached this stage, thereby proving that it is an ineffective system and my paper highlights why this existing system should be changed?

    Historical Reasons For Giving Reservation

    India was a country with a very rigid caste based hierarchal structure where the higher casts enjoyed most of the benefits while the lower casts were looked down upon by the higher casts. The majority of the population was backward socially, economically, educationally, and politically. The backward classes were classified as the Scheduled castes (SC), Scheduled tribes (ST), and other backward classes. By 1947 India became an independent nation. It was at this point that the Constitution of India was framed and then the framers took forward the interest of the backward classes by having Article 46 in the Constitution.
    Article 46 stated that the state shall promote with special care the educational and economic interest of the weaker section of the people, also protecting them from social injustice and all forms of exploitation. Article 46 was complimented by the inclusion of many other articles for the empowerment of the backward classes. Since they were the oppressed classes this was thought to be the best mechanism to correct the mistake that was being practiced for many hundreds of years.

    Although the reservation policy is an exception to the equality rule it is still considered an essential element of equality. As equality has many dimensions and one such dimension is the reservation policy for the backward classes. From the beginning with very few articles on reservation policies in the Constitution now the number of articles has gone up which I feel is reaching a stage where there will have serious backlashes. The general candidates are feeling the pressure all the time. From a simple reservation of about 15% for the SC’s & ST’s in educational institutions now the percentage has gone up and also the other backward classes (OBC’s) have been brought within the fold of reservation by the suggestion of the Mandal Commission. But even after 59 years of independence the people still fall back on reservation.

    It is not that the backward have not progressed but the percentage is less because those who have already availed reservation and progressed keep getting it again. This results in the formation of the creamy layer. Instead of having a reservation policy I feel the emphasis of the government should be to build good schools in the rural as well as urban areas so that the poor have an opportunity to study. All kinds of encouragement from the government should be there in the implementation of such policies. The mid day meal program was a successful one and we should see more of such schemes which encourage the poor to study.

    Government Schools

    Every parent tries to send their child to private & Convent schools and not the government schools, why is it so? They spend thousands of rupees for this purpose but they don’t prefer to avail the free education given by the state. The government schools face many problems like shortfall of teachers, insufficient funds to pay salaries of the teachers etc. There is also a shortfall of qualified teachers. Whenever the government is alerted of the condition it turns a deaf ear to the problems. The government on an average spends about 3% of the GDP on education while countries that have developed at a fast pace have spent about 6% of their GDP on education. Right to education till the age of 14 was made compulsory after the intervention of the court.

    The government has a very negligent attitude towards government schools. This was visible from the priority given by the last National Democratic Alliance government to change the curriculum of the schools so that it would result in the development of their children in the manner they preferred. Such acts by the government only show the low priority level awarded by it to the educational sphere. This needs to be corrected. Only if this attitude of the government is changed and converted to an active one can there be development of the backward classes as education is a very important element that shapes every persons life.

    Reservation in the Private Sector

    The current debate is for awarding reservation in the private sector as globalization has resulted in a boom in the private sector while there has been a shrinkage in the jobs being generated by the public sector entities. But is this nation only for the backward? Why is it that every time the politicians are interested in the issues of the backward classes? The higher casts over the generations may have been very suppressive but that does not mean that tools for empowerment like reservation are misused. It has increasingly been the case with the politicians. When every election nears then they have some kind of reservation or the other being announced which I think is just a mechanism to get votes.

    If real empowerment is the aim I think the backward should exhort the government to make good schools and world class institutions for higher education and make conditions conducive for availing of the reservation. This would go a long way in solving the problems faced by the backward. If the backward rely on the politicians completely and think reservations would help them out then they would be repeating the mistake that they have been repeating all these years. It would only help in the concentration of power in a few among this class which is not the purpose of giving reservation.

    I think it is the very malfunctioning of the reservation system that has made it reach this stage where they have started asking for reservation to be awarded in the private sector. If the whole reservation policy would have been successful then reservation should have ended in the educational institutions itself as those who would have got into these institutions would have developed their skills whereby they could work as professionals or join the public sector depending upon their interest. But the backward also have to change their mind set as they feel they would keep getting reservation throughout so why work. I have seen the laid back attitude of the backward classes in my university which is one among the ten National Law Universities established in the country where they are completely funded by the state in spite of which they don’t study.

    I am strongly against awarding any kind of reservation on the basis of cast which I don’t think is necessarily a good mechanism to determine the backwardness. A better mechanism would be identifying the backwardness based on the economic background. A good example to understand this would be the Brahmins who are considered to be the higher cast in the hierarchical structure of the Hindus of whom many are not even able to meet their ends meet but since they are the higher casts they cannot even get any reservation and be empowered.

    Economic Criteria

    After seeing the functioning of the reservation policy for all these years I think it’s high time we shifted from this criterion of reservation to the economic criteria. Although it is not very easy to do the same but at least there should be a patient try on the part of the legislature in India to implement such proposals. This would in turn help equality reach the masses and not get misused as of now which is the aim of the framers of the Constitution as well.

    Since I have already mentioned some of the reasons for the failure of the existing system I think the time for introspection has come. The existing system has not been able to fulfill the equality clause of the constitution under Article 14 of the Constitution due to the lack of infrastructure in the rural areas where a proportionate amount of the backward classes reside. Neither has it been successful in abolishing the caste system. A disturbing sign has been the demanding of reservation by the other backward class whereby the majority would not be left with seats proportional to their numbers. So it is my opinion that the legislators take the necessary steps to tackle the issues before there may be serious social backlashes.

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