Is the recent legislation of providing 10 pc reservation for economically weaker section (EWS) legally tenable and practical? Or is it an easy political tool to woo a section of electorate that can fetch votes for the ruling party in the general election to be held this year.
Well known dalit leader and union minister Ramvilas Paswan in the Narendra Modi government asserted on January 20 the decision to introduce 10 pc quota in government jobs and higher education to members of economically weaker sections, including upper castes. This will boost the BJP-led NDA’s vote share by 10 pc, paving the way for Narendra Modi’s re-election as Prime Minister. Hailing from Bihar, Paswan has been minister in successive governments from 1996 to 2004 and again in 2014.
“Let me tell you. This 10 pc quota will lead to a rise of 10 pc in our vote share,” said the dalit leader, who has long been a strong votary for quota for the general category poor.
A seasoned politician for all seasons Paswan knows well what he is saying. The move for 10 pc quota has been politically motivated after the ruling party- Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was unseated in the recent assembly elections in three states- Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.
A prime reason was the upper caste anger, after the Modi government recently overturned a Supreme Court judgment that ordered certain safeguards against arrests made under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Atrocities Act. This had direct fallout in the recent Assembly elections.
Secondly an attempt at a new social engineering with the BJP eyeing non-Yadav OBCs, non-Jatav Dalits and the general category voters in view of the arch political rivals- Samajwadi Party (SP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) forging an alliance for the general elections, is likely to deplete the BJP’s political fortune in Uttar Pradesh, the grand political akhara (arena) that sent 80 representatives to Parliament. In 2014 BJP won 71 of 80 seats on its own.
Brahmins, account for 10 pc in Uttar Pradesh (UP) and 6 pc in Bihar. They are also upset as the BJP has not given them much representation in the Cabinet and the party. Kalraj Mishra was the last prominent Brahmin face in the Modi Cabinet but was eased out after he turned 75. UP and Bihar together have 120 Lok Sabha seats.
The legislation to grant 10 pc reservation cleared by both Houses of Parliament early this month — was challenged in a public interest litigation (PIL) filed before the Supreme Court on January 10.
Here it is important to recall the Indra Sawhney case in 1992 that fixed a ceiling of 50 pc for reservations across categories. Currently, the volume of reservation for the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and OBCs comes to 49.5 pc.
There have been several attempts by state governments to break through the ceiling. However, the laws were struck down by the court on the ground of the judgement in the Indra Sawhney case.
Where are the jobs?
The reservation whether to economically weaker section or to others is likely to prove to be a cropper. The Delhi based Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), points out that as many as 10.1 million people lost their jobs in 2018. The unemployment rate shot up to 7.4 pc in December 2018, the highest in 15 months.
According to the annual household surveys, conducted by the labour bureau, India’s rate of unemployment has seen a persistent upward trend since 2013-2014. This trend accelerated steeply in 2018, as per the report. The current level of employment generation has not kept pace with the 12 million people entering the labour market each year. According to CMIE there are 31 million Indians unemployed looking for jobs. So the offer of reservation amounts to a mere political lollipop.
Mandating a 10 pc quota for economically weaker sections in the educational institutions is another problem area. No doubt government is entitled to implement this quota in centrally-funded institutions. But implementing the quota has to be seen in problems plaguing the educational institutions in terms of lack of infrastructure and poor-teacher-student ratio. The apex court has also barred reservation in private unaided educational institutions through two judgements.
But it is important to recall after the Supreme Court refused to recognise exclusive economic criterion, many high courts reiterated this view.
The legislation at best is just focussed in terms of electoral gains without making much effort to create opportunities whether in terms of access to education or availing employment.