Redefining backwardness PDF Print E-mail
Friday, 25 August 2017 05:03
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Examining inequitable benefit-distribution long overdue


Even those who oppose the policy of endless reservations will agree the benefits for OBCs have mostly been cornered by dominant groups that cannot be considered backward by most yardsticks. As a result of this, other privileged castes, such as the Patidars in Gujarat or the Jats in Haryana or the Marathas in Maharashtra, have also started clamouring for being included in the OBC category. And since the agitations have been intense, and even bloody, the political class has sought to buy peace by promising them reservations, regardless of whether this is legal—in the landmark Indra Sawhney case, the Supreme Court had fixed a ceiling of 49% on all reservations.

In the case of the Jats in Haryana, for instance, the National Commission on Backward Castes (NCBC) had ruled this out in 2014 on grounds that Jats “as a class cannot be treated as a backward class”—the UPA, however, notified this since elections were in the air and, in 2015, the SC struck this down. Yet, in 2016, the Haryana government passed a Bill declaring Jats, along with Bishnois, Rors and Tyagis, as Backward Classes (Category C) and giving them 10% reservation in government jobs and educational institutions and asked for Ninth Schedule protection for its law—the law has been challenged before the Punjab and Haryana High Court. In the case of the Marathas, similarly, several commissions, going back to Kalelkar in 1955, have rejected their demand for reservation—and while the Congress-NCP government granted a 16% reservation to Marathas just before the 2014 election, it ran into trouble at the Bombay High Court.

To the extent that reservations are being cornered by powerful castes, the central government’s decision to set up a commission to examine the sub-categorisation within OBCs is a good idea. The commission is going to look at ‘the extent of inequitable distribution of benefits of reservations among … OBCs” and to work out a “mechanism, criteria, norms and parameters, in a scientific approach, for sub-categorisation within such OBCs” and to identify various castes/communities/sub-castes that need to be included in the list. Since the original idea was to benefit caste groups that were excluded from the development process, the commission will help weed out those who are over-represented and bring in those that are under-represented. If the commission does its job well, this will mean categories like Jats/Patidars/Marathas can no longer get reservations—in which case, prime minister Modi will have to ensure all BJP state chief ministers fall in line. Also, to the extent dominant castes see their reservation-share reducing, chances are the struggle could get violent. Given how the reservations policy has lowered educational and other standards, ideally, the government should find ways to wind down reservations, but including new groups and excluding others—subject to the Indra Sawhney cap—is a good beginning.


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