Saturday, April 12, 2008

Update by Supreme Court on OBC reservation in education

When the Government decided to go around the Supreme Court ruling that disallowed reservation for SC/ST's in private unaided educational institutions, the Congress would never have visualized the can of worms that got opened. In a sign of intra-party power plays (or the desperation of a neglected man to make his mark), the education minister used the powers in the new law to propose reservations for OBC's in educational institutions. And of course, given the state of our polity and the political implications of OBC support, there is not a single party in the country that would go against this proposal. The proposal however horrified a number of students, who were aghast at the idea of a massive increase in the number of reserved seats in educational institutions, including the 'elite' ones such as AIIMS, IIT's, and IIM's.
Given that any number of agitations were not going to stop the Government, pushed to the backfront by the pressure of their allies, eager to see these quotas implemented. The case naturally went directly to the Supreme Court, which initially itself pushed the Government on the backfront by staying the implementation of the law, and asked a number of hard questions to which the Congress did not have many answers. The Government tried hard to defuse a growing upper caste anger / backlash by promising that seats would be increased so that current general seats would not be affected, and institutions would be given additional funding so that they would increase infrastructure accordingly. The Congress knows that they would not be able to harness any of the OBC seat anyway, these are promised to the regional parties that bank on the OBC vote.
And finally the Supreme Court has delivered its judgment, a fair amount of time after the law was proposed. The Supreme Court has decided against a direct confrontation with parliament by not blocking the law, and giving Parliament the right to make laws regarding affirmative action. However, it laid down some parameters that make things different for the Congress; first by ensuring that the principle of creamy layer (people already empowered and not needing a further boost) to be removed (a good thing, since it ensures that OBC's in cities do not get all the seats as opposed to the backward castes who can use the help of reservation); further, in a principle that is being debated to some extent, the majority of the Court observed that a person who is a graduate does not need a boost up (thus effectively ruling out reservations in post-graduate courses such as IIM's and IIT's); finally the court made observations regarding the utility of reviewing the lists of castes needing this support every 5 years (a observation that every party will ignore).
Overall, the Supreme Court ruling is controversial, not making anybody happy. However, the court has decided that it will not challenge the supreme principle of Parliament (otherwise there would have been a direct confrontation), but has set many constraints.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 11:17 AM