By Sunil Garodia
The NDA government has decided to have a ten percent quota for “economically weaker” sections of the upper castes. Shrinking the job and education pie further is a vile thing to do. Reservation deals a blow to merit. As of now, only 50% of the jobs and educational seats were available to the meritorious students from the so-called general category. The rest were up for grabs by the SC/ST and OBC students, who, despite getting much lower marks and paying much lower fees, could occupy seats in premier institutes of higher learning or land government jobs.
While affirmative action is needed to right the wrongs of centuries, it is not proper to do so at the higher learning level. Students from the SC/ST and OBC categories, or even from the economically weaker sections of the upper castes, could be provided with absolutely free education from nursery to higher secondary level, with free books and uniforms, mid-day meals and access to print and digital libraries as well as free after-school tuition if needed. Each family from the reserved category that sends children to school could also be provided with a monthly stipend per child to ensure that the child is properly fed at home and is not forced to work after school to earn to make the family’s ends meet. In the age of talks about helicopter money, it should not be a very tough thing to do. But after higher secondary level, merit should be the only consideration – both for seats in institutes of higher learning and in government jobs. If students from the reserved quota cannot compete with the rest even after getting everything free till Class 12, why allow them to make India mediocre by giving them a seat in a higher learning institute by denying the same to a much better student from the general category?
In any case, reserving seats and jobs for the economically weaker sections of the upper castes is going to open the Pandora’s Box of demands for the same from other sections of society. Why not now reservations on the same lines for Muslims, Christians, Jains, Sikhs and Parsees? Reservation of educational seats and jobs, apart from making India a mediocre country and causing brain drain, has a serious effect on the beneficiaries too. When these students know that to get admissions or jobs they just need to achieve a certain very low percentage of marks, their efforts are directed towards achieving that and no more. It is not surprising then that none from the reserved category normally tops any all-India exam. If we take the UPSC Civil Services Examinations as an example, it is seen that year after year, only about 14 to 15% of candidates from the reserved categories (SC/ST and OBC) make it to the list of top 90 students. It has become a habit with most of these students and even those who train them to aim for the cut-off that will get them a seat or land them a job. In the name of affirmative action, we are doing a great disservice to these categories by making them remain mediocre.
Then there is the question of the rich and privileged among the reserved categories. The so-called creamy layer from these categories has been grabbing seats and jobs at the expense of the economically weaker. Most often, these well-off SC/ST or OBC sections are politically connected or from families who have churned out IAS/IPS officers for generations. It is a well-entrenched mafia that has deflected all talks of reservation for the economically weaker sections of the SC/ST and OBC within the overall limit of 50%. For any affirmative action to be successful, the opportunity offered under it must be availed by as wide a cross-section of the class as possible and not cornered by a privileged few. The government must think about that and should lower the SC/ST and OBC reservation to 40%, with 20% of that for economically weaker sections of the reserved category, and allow the rest 10% for economically weaker section of all classes and not only the upper caste Hindus. Reducing the pie for the general category to 40% is a sure way of making India further mediocre and inducing further brain drain. Reservation, per se, is bad but anything above 50% is absolutely dreadful.