Context: The achievements of reservation may be affected by the new programme of privatisation that has been announced by the Finance Minister in the framework of structural reforms accompanying the anti-Covid-19 relief package.
- Reservations have been one of the most effective techniques of positive discrimination in India.
- The reservation policy was never conceived as a mass employment scheme but as the best way to redress the whole history of oppression.
- Gradually, it has created a group of Dalits that validated some criteria of the middle class in terms of education and occupation.
- In the Central Public Sector Enterprises (CPSEs), the proportion of SCs and STs rose from 14.6 per cent in 2004 to 18.1 per cent in 2014.
- In parallel, the SCs’ literacy rate jumped from 21.38 per cent in 1981 to 66.1 per cent in 2011.
- Similar progress was achieved by the OBCs, a category that started to benefit from reservations many years later, after the Mandal Commission report was implemented.
- Their percentage in the CPSEs jumped from 16.6 per cent in 2004 to 28.5 per cent in 2014.
- According to the new Public Sector Enterprises Policy (PSEP), a list of strategic sectors will be notified where there will be no more than four public sector enterprises — the rest would be merged or privatised.
Erosion of the reservation: While the percentages mentioned above are on the increase, the trend is different if one looks at the number of jobs they represent, as the public sector is shrinking.
- Reservation not in sync with increase in vacancies: The number of central government vacancies has surged, from 5.5 lakh in 2006 to 7.5 lakh in 2014.
- But the total number of employees has dropped. For example, Dalits benefiting from reservations has been reduced by 16 per cent in the same period..
- In contrast, the number of OBCs continued to rise in the Central Government Services.
- But in the CPSEs, the inverted U curve had started: the number of OBCs benefiting from reservations has dropped, after seeing a jump till 2012.
- Lateral entry: Reservations have also been undermined by lateral entry into the bureaucracy, because the quotas did not apply here.
- The judiciary has contributed to the erosion of the reservation system in different ways during the last two years.
- In a judgment, the Allahabad High Court has allowed the University Grants Commission (UGC) to shift the unit of provision of reservations from a university as a whole to the departmental level, reducing the quantum of reserved seats.
- Recently, the Supreme Court ruled that reservation in job promotions was not a fundamental right.
- This ruling undermined the effect of an 77th amendment to the Constitution that had resulted in article 16(4A) in 1995, further refined in 2001 through the 85th amendment, which extended the benefit of reservations in favour of the SCs/STs in matters of promotion with consequential seniority.
Reason for the erosion of reservation:
- Reservation and political clout: The trajectory of positive discrimination in India suggests that the implementation of this policy is a function of the political clout of Dalits and OBCs.
- They gained when parties - including the BSP, SP and RJD - were in a position to put pressure on the governments, especially when they were part of ruling coalitions.
- The electoral decline of these parties has resulted not only in the comeback of upper castes in the assemblies but in the questioning of policies in favour of the plebeians.
Manifestation of the erosion of reservation:
- Recently, the National Commission for Backward Classes has issued a notice to the health ministry complaining that the post-Mandal 27 per cent quota was not implemented systematically, under the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test.
- SCs and OBCs are not only penalised by the decline of the reservation system, but also affected by other policies.
- For instance, the funds earmarked for Dalit education in the Indian budget were reduced.
- As a result, scholarship funds were cut drastically and nearly five million Dalit students have been affected by this reduction and delays in payment.
Equality of opportunity in matters of public employment
(1) There shall be equality of opportunity for all citizens in matters relating to employment or appointment to any office under the State.
(2) No citizen shall, on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, descent, place of birth, residence or any of them, be ineligible for, or discriminated against in respect of, any employment or office under the State.
(3) Nothing in this article shall prevent Parliament from making any law prescribing, in regard to a class or classes of employment or appointment to an office under the Government, any requirement as to residence within that State or Union territory prior to such employment or appointment.
(4) Nothing in this article shall prevent the State from making any provision for the reservation of appointments or posts in favour of any backward class of citizens which, in the opinion of the State, is not adequately represented in the services under the State.
(4A) Nothing in this article shall prevent the State from making any provision for reservation in matters of promotion, with consequential seniority, to any class or classes of posts in the services under the State in favour of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes which, in the opinion of the State, are not adequately represented in the services under the State.
(4B) Nothing in this article shall prevent the State from considering any unfilled vacancies of a year which are reserved for being filled up in that year in accordance with any provision for reservation made under clause (4) or clause (4A) as a separate class of vacancies to be filled up in any succeeding year or years.
(5) Nothing in this article shall affect the operation of any law which provides that the incumbent of an office in connection with the affairs of any religious or denominational institution or any member of the governing body thereof shall be a person professing a particular religion or belonging to a particular denomination.