Reservation Was never an anti-poverty measure: On 10% EWS Reservation
P.S. Krishnan, 04 Apr 2019
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The government has announced 10 percent reservation for EWS in higher education. What are the pros and cons? Will it stand judicial scrutiny? P.S. Krishnan, Former Secretary of Government of India deliberates on the matter.

 

Every problem should have a solution appropriate to the problem, just as every disease must have a medication appropriate to the disease. If somebody has TB, you give drugs for that. If someone has vitamin shortage, you don’t give him medicine for TB. In the same way, reservation cannot solve poverty. Poverty is a different problem of a different dimension. It requires different measures, macro as well as micro- economic. 

 

Finding the right solution 

Governments have struggled with this problem, and rightly so. They have to find the right solutions for both unemployment and poverty. Both of these are related. So, for both of these, a different set of policy measures are required. It has to be borne in mind that the problem for which reservation was created was ‘denial of the access of education and avenues for upward and outward mobility, not merely for individuals but collectivises, classes consisting of castes’. 

 

Reservation for economically weaker sections

Our constitution provides for Equality of Opportunity and bars discrimination against any citizens on grounds of caste, religion, place of birth etc. This inter alia means that out of 100 posts, every citizen should have access to every one of 100 posts. The Constitution provides that in order to make Equality of Opportunity real, some of these posts can be made available to those classes who have been, over the centuries, collectively deprived, namely, Scheduled Castes (SCs), Scheduled Tribes (STs) and Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEdBCs). Only to this extent can the availability of every one of the 100 posts to every citizen of India be abridged. 

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The problem of non-SC, non-ST, non-BC poor, who are covered by the 10 percent EWS reservation, is not collective denial of access to these opportunities, but based on individual poverty. The remedy for poverty is to provide inputs which will negate the effects of poverty. For example, a genuinely poor person of a so-called ‘upper’ caste may not be able to pursue education to the fullest extent on account of financial incapacity. The remedy for this is to create the financial capacity by giving scholarships and education loans. 

If a poor person, because of these circumstances, isn’t able to find a place in the economy, give him/her skill development and assistance for setting up own business and so on. Such schemes do exist. We require the scaling up of such schemes to solve the poverty-based problems of the genuinely poor among the ‘upper’ castes and also the poor among the deprived classes. Here, we are mixing up problems and solutions.

 

How do you define poverty?

Income-based definitions are always vulnerable to easy manipulation. There are states which have been providing facilities for the so-called ‘economically backward classes’. Most of them are the children of rich farmers and other such non-salaried persons, who are able to get certificates of ‘below poverty line’ income. If detected, such persons can always escape saying that in the year in which the income certificate was given, his income was below poverty line.   

Poverty should not be related to income. For instance, an upper caste family in which no person has education beyond matriculation or in which nobody has had a steady job in the organized sector, government or non-government could be an identifiable category. Then, an upper caste family which doesn’t have a single house of their own anywhere, and then the names of these people can be publicised in their village or their mohalla to bring in public scrutiny. So, you must have such parameters which can be fool-proof and manipulation-proof. Not that they can solve the problem with 100 percent strike rate, but we can solve them much better than we have been able to till now.

 

The nature of poverty among SC, ST, BC is different. In their case, a poor person is typically a labourer in the unorganized sector. In the case of upper caste poor, it typically is a person from the lower middle class, rarely from the labour class. There are also small land-owning farmers among them. 

 

Is reservation the right tool?

It is the right tool, just for one purpose. It is not the tool for all problems, even for SC, ST and BC. It is not a panacea to solve all their problems. They have got many problems. For example, SC people are typically landless agricultural laborers in rural areas. When they come to the cities, they are unorganized urban laborers. They are forced to reside in the worst localities. Neonatal mortality, child mortality, infant mortality, maternal mortality are the highest among the people belonging to SC and ST, followed by the SEdBC and the least among upper castes. Malnutrition, stunting, underweight all these are more among these people. The longevity of SC, ST people is the lowest. 

 

Does reservation curb merit or is it the other way round?

Reservation is not about placing inefficient people against efficient people, nor a measure against merit. Merit is there in all human beings, but it has to be brought out. It can be brought out only through education. Education should not be restricted to schools but be part of the whole environment. So, reservation is a process through which the merit which is already there in individuals of the historically deprived classes can be brought out. It rather improves merit by enhancing the reservoir of merit. This is not just theory. After 70 years of independence, everybody recognizes that the peninsular states of India have delivered health and education to the people better than north Indian states. How did it happen? One important factor is the merit available in the SCs, STs and SEdBCs that has been brought out, through reservation and related measures, and also become available to the national enterprise of development. 

 

Problem of increasing 25 percent seats

This not the first time it is being done. In 2006, when reservation was for the first time extended by legislation to the SEdBC, while also bringing under statue the already existing reservation for SCs and STs in admissions to seats in Central educational institutions, then also the government increased the number of seats in educational institutions by a little more than or double the newly introduced 27 percent quota. Thereby, while providing 27 percent reservation for SEdBCs, the existing education reservation of 15 percent for SCs and 7.5 percent for STs was maintained in the increased total and the number of seats for ‘the general’, i.e., for all, was maintained without any reduction. 

 

General category is not just one class, it means all. That should not be reduced. So, in those times, more than 54 percent seats were added and funds were provided by the government. Now also, by the same logic, the government apparently doesn’t want to reduce the number of “general” seats available for all, after reservation for the three socially reserved classes, i.e., the SC, ST and BC and the new “EWS”. Funds have to be provided for this, and it does not matter even if the full expansion takes more than a year. 

 

It is also necessary to augment intake in educational institutions irrespective of reservation. The other problems relate to the type of education, syllabus, practical content, aligning it with the market demands and with opportunities available. These are all the challenges which to some extent have been addressed but are yet to be fully addressed.   

 

We haven’t given adequate attention to education and health. At this point, even Bangladesh provides a higher percentage of its GDP to education than us. The general slogan is, we should provide 6 percent of the GDP to education and 3 percent to health. We are much below that. So, one is fund, then content.We need to prepare teachers, we need to attract, retain and train right teachers. Faculty recruitment, retention, continuous training and linking with the changes in the economy, as economy in itself isn’t static, is very important. 

 

Time for judicial process to take its course

When for the first time, the reservation for SEdBC was introduced in 1990, it was stayed by the Supreme Court (SC) till its judgment in November 16, 1992 upholding the constitutionality of reservation for SEdBCs. Then, in the case of what is loosely called Mandal-2, the extension of reservation for SEdBC in admission to seats in education was passed in 2006, but the implementation of this reservation for SEdBCs was stayed by the Supreme Court till its judgment upholding it which came in 2008. So, based on past experience, judgment in the present case can take one-and-a-half or two years. It can take less also, because many issues are clearer now than they were at that time. It is a limited issue. Is reservation for “EWS”, on the basis of poverty, according to the basic structure of constitution? If the court decides, it can be fast-tracked as well. But this is for the SC to decide keeping in view all the cases before it. However,  this should not remain in the zone of uncertainty too long.

 

Will it stand judicial scrutiny?

There is an argument that SC judgment of limiting reservation within 50% applies only to vertical reservation, while it doesn’t affect, for instance, reservation for women. Suppose you provide sub-quotas for women of SC, ST and SEdBC within the quota for SC, ST and SEdBCs and sub-quota of reservation for women in posts and seats for the general category, it is considered “horizontal reservation”. But, reservation for ‘EWS’ is a ‘vertical’ reservation. It isn’t horizontal, because it is for castes other than SC, ST and SEdBC. So, this 10% reservation for EWS may be found to be violative of the basic structure of the constitution. What the courts will finally say cannot be predicted. The matter is already before the SC. A number of petitions have been filed challenging this. The government is defending it. In my opinion as a person who has been involved in social justice, social equality and for those who have been denied social equality, this may not stand judicial scrutiny.   

 

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P.S. Krishnan,

Former Secretary, GoI


#The author works in the field of social justice for the SCs, STs and SEdBCs

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