Friday, March 30, 2007

Supreme Court of India stays reservation for OBC's in education

The long awaited judgement in the case about reservations for Other Backward Classes (OBC's) has finally come, and it is not totally unexpected, but the case is not yet over. The Supreme Court had asked the Government during the case discussion about the basis of the data for deciding on 27% reservation, and that currently forms the basis for the judgement.
In layman terms, what does the judgement say ? The judgement stays the implementation of the OBC quota in education primarily due to two reasons:
1. There does not seem to be any basis for the Government to declare that 27% is the need for reservation for OBC's. Reading from earlier discussions, it seems like that the Government took the total quota available (50%), reduced the current SC/ST quota (22.5%) and came up with the figure of 27%. In addition, the only basis for the data right now is the census from 1931 (that is, a census carried out when the British ruled India (76 years ago)). Such old data cannot form the basis of any reservation percentage.
2. The Government, inspite of previous indications from the courts, has not implemented the concept of creamy layer while doing these reservations. What does this mean ? It means that these reservations should really be used only for the needy, and people who are already economically well-off should not receive the benefit of these reservations. For example, if a Member of Parliament's child was to receive these benefits, it is making a mockery of these reservations, and depriving the truly needy of the benefit of reservation.
These are both valid arguments. Reservations, are a very touchy subject. They promise a lot to one set of people and remove the same benefits from other people. One expects the Government, and indeed the whole political system to be much more careful when making such radical decisions.
However, the past movement on this area of reservations in the educational system for OBC's seemed like a highly rushed through case. There was an enabling law passed to care of a court judgement that prohibited reservations in non-Government aided institutions, and then one day Arjun Singh talked about using this law to introduce reservations for OBC's in education. Once he did this, there was no turning back. Parties that appeal to the OBC vote jumped on this bandwagon, and the implied political pressure on the Congress and the BJP promised that there would be a bill introduced quickly, and no political party in India would dare to oppose such a bill.
Now onto the political impact. The Congress will not get any credit for these reservations, since there a number of caste based parties that will credit themselves for this achievement. The Congress is only likely to move further away from the middle class.
What does the Government do now ? It cannot put this law into a Ninth Schedule that the court cannot touch, since surprise, surprise, the Supreme Court constitution Bench made all the laws in the Ninth Schedule subject to judicial review. For the current, the Congress will be forced to wring its hands in despair since all the parties will subject it to tremendous pressure to make sure that the law passes, and yet it cannot do anything for the present. Maybe this is a lesson for the Congress political managers that they should not try to be extra smart, since in the long run, any such measure tends to come back and bite them.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 11:27 AM