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Sunday, September 16, 2012

…and why quotas cannot be justified

Quotas will deepen the existing crisis of governance and demoralise government employees.
It was with surprising alacrity that the Union Cabinet paved the way for SC-ST quota in promotions in government jobs, brushing aside the serious reservations expressed by the Attorney-General on its non-feasibility. This is the latest trick of the scam-hit UPA government — piloting the promotional quota legislation in Parliament with surprising speed and vigour to divert attention from misgovernance. It sees a demanding supporter to placate, a constituency to woo, and votes to garner, no matter what price the country pays, how socially divisive and administratively debilitating the whole move is likely to be.
Today, governance is by all accounts the Achilles’ heel of the country. Government does not govern; bureaucracy does not deliver. The most important and urgent task for the country is to infuse a modicum of purpose, ability, and passion among the rank and file of administration at the local, state, and central levels.
There is no substitute for diligence and determination to excel. Strangely, the political class chose to ignore this imperative and, instead, paved the way to further erode the efficacy and morale of the vast government workforce.
Swift to see the vote-bank gains, they play competitive games so that “reserved” sections of the population get a better deal than others. There is already a clamour for OBCs, too, to have reservation in promotions as envisaged for SC/STs.
The erstwhile BSP-led government in Uttar Pradesh provided for a promotional quota for SC employees in government.
The Supreme Court thwarted the State government’s bid to impair and erode the spirit of equity and justice enshrined in the Constitution. Characteristically, the political class have cried foul and avowed to insert an amendment in the Constitution.


Besides heeding the legal advice of the Government’s own experts, shouldn’t our venerable leaders revisit the Supreme Court’s 500-page verdict by its five-judge Constitution bench on April 10, 2008?
While upholding the Central Educational Institutions (Reservation in Admission) Act, 2006, it renounced the anachronistic shibboleths of caste perpetrated over the last six decades. The then Chief Justice KG Balakrishnan maintained, “Poverty, social backwardness, economic backwardness, all are criteria for determination of backwardness.”
Another important observation of the Court related to the need for a finite time limit for enforcement of the quota law, lest it should end up creating “a fractured society for ever suspicious of each other”.
Justice Raveendran maintained, “if caste-based reservation was continued for an unlimited period, the country would be a caste divided society permanently.”
Nani A Palkiwala had earlier pointed out five fatal flaws in the reservation policy: it divides the country along caste lines and works against social harmony; it ignores the reality that there is no backward caste, only backward individuals; while equality is the very heart of free republic, the bedrock of reservation is discrimination in reverse – against merit and calibre; the sub-standard replaces the standard and the reigns of power pass from meritocracy to mediocrity; and reservation in promotion is disastrous for administration.


Blinded by avarice, the political satraps choose to be oblivious to the fact that competent persons among the backward castes abhor flaunting their caste badge. A large number of them perceive caste-based discrimination as a deliberately divisive act. As people get more educated, as they join the economic mainstream, and caste distinctions become less conspicuous.
Surely, the self-proclaimed guardians of the Dalits would be aware that only a miniscule number of SC-ST youth avail the benefit of reservation in higher educational institutions. Until a few years, the actual SC and ST numbers in Delhi University remained only 6.2 per cent and 2.4 per cent, against the provision of 15 per cent and 7 per cent, respectively.
The Parliamentary Committee on the Welfare of Scheduled Castes & Tribes 2001-02 rued that, between 1995-2000, only about half the SC quota and one-third of ST quota of undergraduate seats was filled up.
Not only have reservations and quotas have led to an elite minority, the “creamy layer”, which has cornered much of the benefits, there have also been several corrupt and ignominious practices such as SC/ST and, in some cases, OBC certificates traded for rich gains.
“For every complex problem, there is a solution that is simple, neat and wrong”, said that eminent satirist H.L. Mencken. Populist politics should not deflect our attention from the central question of how to redress complex inequalities, social and economic.


An alternative path to the politically attractive ‘quick fix’ is an arduous, slow and ‘less glamorous’ path of sustained amelioration of the disadvantaged through infusion of human capital. Education is indeed a great leveller and equaliser.
If the erstwhile UP chief minister would only set up a top class hub of infrastructure to infuse multifarious skills among the disadvantaged segments instead of creating lofty monuments and memorial parks, the situation would have been very different.
Sadly, the country finds itself bereft of leadership across the entire political spectrum. This is occasion to recall how the framers of the Constitution were clear that reservations can have only a limited validity.
In his letter addressed to all chief ministers on 27 June 1961, Jawaharlal Nehru maintained, “…I dislike any kind of reservation, particularly in service. I react strongly against anything, which leads to inefficiency and second rate standards…It has annoyed me to learn that even promotions are sometimes based on communal or caste considerations.”
Clearly holding that policy of reservation had “encouraged backwardness, inefficiency and lack of competitive merit …barring a few stray cases”, Ambedkar declared that the provision of reservation in service should not extend beyond 1960-61. Nehru and B.R. Ambedkar would have been aghast at the way the ambit of reservations has been enlarged and expanded in time, scope and content -- to extent that the Constitution is now being sought to be rewritten to this end. 
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