Does merit matter in quota debate? PDF Print E-mail
Friday, 08 June 2018 03:53
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College reservations didn’t make students smarter, so we had job-quotas; these didn't help, so we have promotion-quotas!


Reservations in promotions hits non-SC/ST persons twice over; and goes against Article 335 that says efficiency cannot be sacrificed due to quotas



The fact that the government needs to provide reservations to SC/ST/OBC in government jobs, more than anything else, should be proof that the quota policy is a complete failure. These candidates were not meritorious enough to make it to college, so were given admission on the basis of their being SC/ST/OBC; even a college admission did not make them any smarter and so they needed a jobs-quota after that. And now, in the case of SC/ST, it appears that getting a job through a quota didn’t make them any smarter or improve their skills, which is why the government continues to push for quotas for promotions.

The question for various quota warriors who are exulting over the Supreme Court allowing quotas in job-promotions—till the case is finally decided—is whether merit or efficiency matter at all? And since it cannot be their case that efficiency can be sacrificed, are they arguing that efficiency levels are so poor in the government, it does not matter if an undeserving candidate is given an out-of-turn promotion?


Interestingly, in its attempt to push through unfair quotas, including the one on promotions, the political class has sought to override even the most basic stipulations put in place, either by the Supreme Court or by various Constitutional amendments.

In 1992, in the landmark Indra Sawhney judgment, the Supreme Court had said reservations in promotions were unconstitutional. So, in 1995, Article 16 (4) (a) was inserted through a Constitutional amendment to say that this could be done if the government felt SC/ST groups were “not adequately represented in the services under the State”.

In 2006, in M Nagaraj, the Supreme Court upheld the amendment but added a few additional criterion—the government would have to satisfy the test of backwardness, of the fact that SC/ST groups were inadequately represented and that the promotion did not affect the efficiency of administration. Indeed, in 2012, when the Supreme Court struck down the UP government’s rules on reservations in promotions, it held that the government had not undertaken any exercise to identify whether there was backwardness and inadequate representation of the SC/ST in government jobs.

Following this, the government came up with the 117th Amendment to the Constitution that sought to amend Article 16(4)(a) as well as to override Article 335—335 deals with the need to ensure “efficiency of administration” does not suffer. The 117th Amendment—it never got passed in Parliament, fortunately—also sought to get over the Supreme Court’s rulings in Nagaraj by providing that all notified SC/ST will be deemed to be backward.

n 2017, when Karnataka’s order on reservations in promotions was being argued in the Supreme Court, it was argued that while this ensured a candidate who came in through reservation could reach the third level of seniority by the age of 45, the general category candidate would only make it by the age of 56—the Supreme Court said the “fact that there is no proportionate representation in promotional posts for the population of SCs and STs is not by itself enough to grant consequential seniority to promotees”; it also maintained the government had to keep in mind “overall efficiency is not compromised”.

It added, “backward classes seek justice, general class … seeks equity … the difficulty comes in when the third variable comes in, namely, efficiency in service”.

In March 2016, in Suresh Chand Gautam versus the State of Uttar Pradesh, the Supreme Court said the government “is not bound” to ensure reservations in promotion. And in its July 2016 verdict in the matter of reservations in judicial appointments, upholding the Punjab and Harayana High Court’s verdict, it had said, “There has to be a benchmark… just because one is a Scheduled Caste, the same cannot be done away with …”

Given how the Supreme Court has ruled on the issue in the past, and the fact that this means the general category is discriminated against many times over—in college admissions, in government jobs and then in promotions—it is to be hoped that the Supreme Court will rule against the continuous increase in the ambit of the reservations policy, perhaps even ensure a gradual rollback.

What is unfortunate, however, is that there is no political party/organisation that is interested in doing away with reservations; on the contrary, they are trying to perpetuate it further—at one time, the RSS was against reservations, but it too has moderated its stance given the BJP’s position on it.

Amazingly, no politician, including prime minister Narendra Modi, who is trying to increase India’s competitiveness and is trying to ready its education system to deal with emerging challenges like artificial intelligence, sees a contradiction between depressing standards for half the population—in colleges and in government jobs—and creating excellence.


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