Restricting reservations PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 22 July 2013 00:00
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SC does well to reiterate Indra Sawhney caveats

With a per capita income 260 times more than what it was at the time of Independence, and little doubt that the opportunities thrown up by economic growth have benefited even the so-called disadvantaged groups, it is unfortunate India’s political class across the political spectrum continues to mouth the old shibboleths. So there’s a Food Security Bill to ensure no one stays hungry though the proportion of people reporting not getting two square meals a day is under 2%. Sixty-six years after Independence, the political class wants to further reservations though the data shows every social class is better off today—in the case of houses, for instance, the proportion of those who have houses with concrete roofs has risen from 19.8% in 2001 to 29% at the national level and from 13.14% to 21.93% for SCs; in the case of access to electricity, the numbers for all Indians rose from 55.9% to 67.3%, while it rose from 44.32% to 59.02% for SCs, and from 36.51% to 51.7% in the case of STs.


Given the role of economic growth in increasing opportunities for those who are willing to take them—through higher education primarily—the Supreme Court has done well to come down on the abuse of such reservations which, a five-judge bench headed by the outgoing Chief Justice of India Altamas Kabir, describes as by saying “the very concept of reservation implies mediocrity”. Since reservations are difficult to strike down when the entire political class is for them—and if the courts do that, MPs can simply enact a law to overrule it as they have done so many times in the past—the judgment does well to not make too many sweeping statements and to just restrict itself to the question before it: should there be reservations while appointing faculty to speciality and super-speciality posts at the AIIMS hospital in the capital? While various courts have ruled on this differently, the defining judgment on this was the Indra Sawhney one in 1992 where a nine-judge bench presided over the case—the larger the bench, the weightier its judgment. In Indra Sawhney, the Supreme Court had said that for certain kind of education and jobs, reservations were not a good idea—among this, the Court had said, were technical posts in R&D organisations, specialities and super-specialities in medicine, pilots and scientists in nuclear establishments. Though propriety has it that larger bench rulings are not overturned by smaller benches, several courts ruled in favour of this after the Indra Sawhney case – in one celebrated case, the judgment said “marks is not the sure proof of higher proficiency, efficiency or excellence”. The political class made things worse by adding amendments to the Constitution that allowed more reservations, including in promotions. So while making its ruling, the five-judge bench has asked the government to “take appropriate steps in accordance with the views expressed in Indra Sawhney’s case” and not allow reservations in the case of specialities and super-specialities at AIIMS. Whether the government chooses to do that, of course, is the critical question.


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