Accepting a public interest litigation (PIL) questioning the rationale for the quota for Other Backward Classes (OBC), the Supreme Court (SC) has asked the federal government to provide justification for the legislation. In December 2005, the Parliament, in near unanimity passed legislation to extend reservation for OBC candidates in all centrally-aided higher educational institutions. The move generally castigated by political watchers as a vote-bank exercise faced numerous strikes and opposition primarily from doctors.
Hearing a separate petition, the SC asked the doctors to return to work and asked the government for response for the move. This PIL, filed by Youth for Equality, raised a separate question challenging the government’s decision to create quota disregarding the so-called creamy layer and in violation of earlier SC verdict asking the government to keep this population out of reservation. The legal challenge has place the government in quandary as it has no tools available to it to determine who belongs to creamy layer since it has never laid out clear parameters to define such a population. Moreover, the only survey of castes that the government goes with was done over 70 years ago and by the British. With independence, decades of reservation, economic advancement, and large population growth has seen large shifts of population. These changes have also not been captured.
The so-called social justice partners of the government such as the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), Pattali Munnetra Kazhagam (PMK), Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), and Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) have been holding their larger partner Congress Party hostage. The Congress does not have enough votes to form a government and depends on these fringe groups along with the communists (from the outside) to stay in power.
A recent review of the Ninth Schedule of the Constitution by the Constitutional Bench of the SC determined that the judiciary has the scope to examine all legislation being introduced under this schedule and reject them if they affected the foundation of the Indian Constitution. Hence, all legislation that was deemed politically convenient but violating the Constitution is now being considered by the SC and many of them deal with vote-bank generating reservation. The state that is most affected by the ruling is Tamil Nadu which has a controversial and extra-Constitutional legislation reserving 69 percent of available seats and jobs to assorted groups. Not only is this legislation illegal but also violates another SC ruling that bars reservation above 50 per cent. In response, the rabidly anti forward class and pro-OBC DMK wants the federal government to initiate a new Constitution! The Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.K. Karunanidhi has also written to all other Chief Ministers seeking their support to disobey the SC verdict on the 50 per cent ruling and the Ninth Schedule review.
Fortunately, there are few takers in India for such rabid philosophy. The Congress has refused to join hands with DMK on this score and there are indications that national level political players are against the confrontational course with the judiciary. In fact, when DMK ministers reportedly talked about dismissing judicial views during Cabinet meetings, national-level leaders opposed such talk as they would essentially break down the rule of law in India and relegate it to becoming a failed state as many in the region have become.
Therefore, the lack of data makes the government incompetent to make a decision on OBC and the political pressure to stay in power from the fringe groups makes it incapable of making the right decision.
In the meanwhile, disregarding the judicial moves on this issue, the federal government has already issued notices to centrally-aided institutions to create a quota for OBC. The Indian Institute of Management at Bangalore has decided to “progressively” raise intake so that it can accommodate the 27 per cent quota for OBC candidates. In other words, the methodology that is followed is to increase the larger quantum of students to a point where the reservation of 27 percent for OBC will not reduce the number of students in other categories.
This methodology where the government is trying to have the cake and eat it too has created collateral problems. For one, the increase in the quantum of students in these institutions requires large amounts of budget allocation. Strapped for cash, the government has decided to fund such expansion by sacrificing a primary education plan that will essentially implement the right to education as guaranteed by the Constitution. The reasoning for this move is purely political. While OBC quota is highly visible and create a vote bank, non-voting children do not.
The second problem is that such a large increase in the total number of students requires a higher number of teachers. Since India is already deficient in the number of teachers available to teach in these advanced institutions, the government has decided to increase the retirement age and reduce the qualification threshold. This move will greatly compromise the quality of education that these institutions are reputed to provide.
Instead of politically convenient and self-serving moves, the federal government needs to view the issue based on basic parameters such as caste order, economic status, parental education levels, family property ownership, asset ownership, consumer durable ownership, income levels, etc and create a rating and ranking system for children.
If such a system is created, it would be obvious that most urban candidates will not be eligible for reservation. Rural children, long denied the advances of economic development, will be the ones who will benefit and politicians will be happy to note that this vote-bank is larger and will be very lucrative. Therefore, even if the quota system is implemented to benefit the rural population, it would be a case of making the wrong decision for the right reason which is significantly better than making the wrong decision for the wrong reason.