Reservation policy has been an integral part of public policy of both the
British India and princely India. It was primarily a policy formulated by the
British to provide representation to the Indians in the administrative set up,
which eventually extended to recruitment, promotion and educational
institutions. The successor democratic governments continued to pursue this
policy with the exception of bringing some make-up alterations to it now and
The states in India were given the liberty of implementing reservation policy on
the basis of criterion evolved by them. This was to enable them to adopt
policies which were considered best and in consonance with circumstances
prevailing therein. Hence a common ground was not found either in determining
the backwardness and also the percentage of reservation to be provided for its
Visionary approach: Empowerment of the deprived
action policy, more popularly known as Reservation
, is authored by the provisions in the Indian Constitution which was
adopted in 1950, though its initiation at the country level dates back to the
early 1930s. The two important features of the provision in the constitution
which needs to be acknowledged for the purpose of this working paper are: the
principle of Nondiscrimination and Equal opportunity
and the provisions
enshrined in the Constitution empowering the State to take steps to ensure equal
Article 16 provides for equality of opportunity for all citizens in the matters
relating to employment or appointment to any office under the State. It bans
discrimination, particularly in any employment or appointment to any office
under the state on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex, descent, place of
birth, residence, or any of them.
Issues Related to Implementation of Reservation
There are various issues pertaining to implementation of reservations in
employment, education and other spheres that need attention.
Problems of Access and Exclusion:It appears that the continuing disparities in the attainment level are
closely linked to the lower access of the socially marginalized groups of
SC/STs to sources of income and human resource capabilities (such as,
capital assets like agricultural land), non land assets, lower urbanization,
employment diversification away from agriculture, exceptionally high
dependence on casual wage labour, higher underemployment, lower daily wages,
particularly, in non-farm activities, low level of literacy and low level of
education, compared with Non SC/ST groups.
The empirical evidence also shows that low access to resources, employment
and education of marginalized groups, as compared to Non SC/ST groups, is
closely linked with the processes of exclusion and discrimination; partly
carried forward as residual of old caste system to the present. When the
affected people try to gain education or try to participate in other
learning platforms, they are subjected to discrimination.
Discrimination and Atrocities:The SCs also experience the fangs of violence and atrocity during their
attempts to secure human rights and lawful entitlements. The negative
experiences, therefore, assume a variety of forms: ranging from social and
economic boycott to physical violence: The major causes of atrocities and
other offences against Scheduled castes and tribes are related to issues of
property, access to water, payment of wages, indebtedness and bonded labour.
Issues of human dignity, including compulsion to perform distasteful tasks
traditionally forced on SCs, and molestation and exploitation of Dalit women
are also involved. The economic factors also worsen this caste based stress,
which in turn leads to violence.
Problems of Justice: Despite legal measures in seeking legal safeguards against discrimination in
employment, education and other spheres, the SC/STs continue to suffer from
discriminatory access to the institutions of justices which are responsible
for delivering justice. Studies concerning this aspect of discrimination
indicate that SC/STs are generally faced with insurmountable obstacles in
their efforts to hunt justice in event of discrimination: during
registration of a legal case or while taking over matters at various levels
of the institutional setup, for e.g., before the police, the general
public prosecutors and other official functionaries.
Extension of Reservation
Political reservation has a definite time limit. Initially, reservation was
provided for a ten year period, with a provision for extension after every ten
years. Accordingly, since its inception it has been extended after every ten
years. The present extension is up to 2020.
However, the ten year limit is not applicable to reservation in government
services and governmental educational institutions. While the Constitution made
a general provision for adequate share to be provided for the SC/STs, it is left
to the discretion of the Government to decide when the reservation policy could
be called off; which could be done as and when it believed that discrimination
against the SC/STs may no longer be a major problem and that they are genuinely
uplifted, and have gained due representation and participation in normal course
The same criterion was to be utilized for the extension/calling off of
reservation in legislature after every ten year. It is necessary to recognize
that although there is a minority view that expresses concern about the
indefinite extension of reservations, the dominant view is and has remained in
favour of extension. The latter support reservation as long as discrimination
and social exclusion of SC/STs persists.
Since social exclusion and discrimination of SC/STs is prevalent on a large
scale in multiple spheres and that these groups continue to be deprived of basic
rights, there is an excellent support in the Government institutions for
reservation policy without taking into account the time constraints and
extensions. In fact, given the exclusivist character of the Indian social order,
reservation in government services have been extended to include other groups:
Other Backward Castes (OBCs, who constitute 27 per cent of India's population);
SCs who have converted into Sikhism and Buddhism; and the backward caste
The case of reservation for SCs who have converted to Christianity is presently
under consideration. Reservations in government services for Muslims have
already been announced by a few states in a limited scale. There are differences
regarding the targeting of reservation within the group that has been identified
to be under the reserved category. For example, within the OBCs, the relatively
better-off classes are termed ‘creamy layer' and are thus, excluded from the
umbrella of reservation.
One is categorized as belonging to the ‘creamy layer'
on the basis of
one's income and other supplementary indicators. The concept of ‘creamy layer'
however, has not been applied to SC/STs because the ones who are relatively
better off, as well as the ones who are worse off still have to face reservation
and are not able to participate in the decision making. At the same time, the
relatively better-off SC/STs do suffer from exclusion and discrimination based
on the income criterion, although, in theory, they are entitled to reservation
in government jobs, educational institutions and the legislature.
Given the structural inequalities and exclusionary and discriminatory character
of Indian society, the State has developed remedies against caste and
ethnicity-based exclusion and discrimination and for empowerment of excluded
groups, the SC/STs, which constitute about one-fifth of India's total
population. The safeguards against exclusion and discrimination in the forms of
legal measures and affirmative actions cover public employment, public education
and legislative seats and also other government amenities like public housing,
etc. However, affirmative action policy in India is confined to the government
sector only and the vast private sector is excluded from its jurisdiction.
The Government has used some sort of an informal affirmative action policy in
the private sector. Over time, there has been considerable improvement in the
share of SC/ST reservation and representation in government employment and
educational institutions. The reservation in legislative bodies has also ensured
the SC/STs some space in the executive and decision making process.
The impact of formal reservation policy in government sector and informal
affirmative action policy in private sector has led to some improvement in the
human development of SC/STs. Despite positive improvements, the disparities in
human development between SC/STs and non SC/ST continue even today. At the time
of the implementation of reservation policy, there are some glaring issues as
well which need to be addressed. Although the Government has taken steps to
improve the implementation of reservation policy, there has been resistance to
the policy in indirect forms and as result, its success is uneven across sectors
Reservations is close to the population mark of SC/STs in lower categories of
jobs, but lower than the population mark in case of high grade positions and
technical education institutions. Owing to the indirect nature of resistance to
implementation of reservation policy, the extension and the percolation of the
reservation policy to several government sectors has been slow.
The other issue that recently acquired prominence is the demand made by SC/ST
groups to extend the affirmative action policy of the Government to the private
sector employment and educational institutions and other private sector spheres
as well; this is under active consideration by the Government of India. In the
Indian context, it must however be mentioned, that given the exclusionary
character of Indian society and exclusion linked deprivation of a vast section
of the population, there has been a need for a general reorganization of the
affirmative action policy for discriminated groups.
- Ambedkar, B.R., The Hindu Social Order - Its Essential Features, in
Vasant Moon (Eds.), Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar - Writings and Speeches,
Department of Education, Government of Maharashtra, Bombay, 1987, Volume 3,