Time to review our reservation system

The term ‘reservations’ is unique to our country. Right now, two types of reservation has cropped up in my mind while I write this, namely Rail Reservation and Seat Reservation in govt. run educational institutions. The latter is the one that will be discussed here. When we achieved freedom, our Constitution makers were of the firm belief that the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe community will need special attention for their well-being, including reserving seats for them in educational institutions, if they are to achieve socio-economic upliftment similar to other communities.

Why this special attention needed was because of the precarious conditions in which members of these communities had to live their lives. The caste system has a long history and need not be elaborated here. Important to note here is that these very communities also played an important role in the freedom of our country, which does not find elaborate mention in our history books or maybe is deliberately sidelined.

Now when provision for reservations was made in the Constitution, it was believed that it will continue only for a certain amount of time and after a significant socio-economic development of the communities was achieved, it will cease to operate. However, it did not happen, rather it became a political issue and as a result the system, and politics around it, continues to this day. No political party advocates ending reservation or even a review of it. They feel that if they do so, they will lose out on their crucial SC and ST vote share, even if it means overlooking the fact if the deserving candidates among SC and ST are fully getting the benefits of it or not.

Currently, 49.5% of the seats are reserved, which also includes reservation for OBC (Other Backward Classes). This community started getting reservation post-1991 after the implementation of Mandal Commission recommendations. The decision of the govt. to implement it was upheld by the courts as it felt that there are other backward classes in the country who also need to be uplifted.

The question is, for how long will we continue with the system of reservations. What about merit.? What about General Category students who already have to compete in an ultra-competitive environment due to seat reservation and an ever falling number of vacancies in govt. jobs, not to mention the corruption in recruitment which affects all. Recent protests by Jats, Patidars, Gujjars and others is a testimony to the fact that even prosperous communities have to protest in order to get a fair share of representation in govt jobs and educational institutions.

Politics is and will always be played around it as was seen in 2014, when just a few months before elections, the UPA govt. granted reservation to Jats despite knowing that it will definitely be rejected by courts. It was a desperate political move on the part of the erstwhile govt. Current govt, despite facing intense violence by Patidars in Gujarat and Jats in Haryana, has resisted in granting OBC status to the community knowing well it will not survive court scrutiny. In this context, the definition of who is “backward” and who is not needs a relook, something which the courts have also indirectly highlighted.

Clearly a permanent solution has to be found to this issue plaguing the country. One cannot keep on extending reservation benefits to select caste and communities. It needs a tough decision to be taken by someone who puts national interest first and does not engage in petty caste politics. Only then will the country prosper.

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