Reservations dilemma PDF Print E-mail
Sunday, 21 May 2006 00:00
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Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has assured all sections of society that his government will amicably settle the issues arising out of the proposed reservation for other backward classes (OBC) in institutions of higher learning. But it is far from clear what he will do with the mess Human Resources Development Minister Arjun Singh has left at his doorstep. Dr Singh has around 50 ministerial committees and commissions already and has set up yet another group of ministers to find a solution to this ticklish problem. One possible solution being talked of is to increase the number of seats in educational institutions where the reservations will be enforced. The logic is that if, for instance, 2,000 medical seats are to be reserved for the OBCs, then adding a similar number will make the non-SC/ST/OBC students feel less aggrieved.
Simultaneously, the government has found that police lathi charges and water cannons are not having the desired impact (if anything, sympathy for the students is rising). It is now threatening to dismiss doctors if they don’t rejoin duty. While the doctors appear united right now, the threat has created some discord among the ranks. Apart from reports that some junior doctors are resuming duty, even members of the senior faculty that supported the strike appear divided in major hospitals. That the government needs to act fast is apparent since, once colleges re-open in July, after the summer vacation, it is easy to see the agitation spreading, unless checked right now.
The problem now is that, having promised OBC reservations, the partial solution being talked of won’t help, unless the government takes the job of adding more seats in educational institutions seriously with the intention of completing it in as short a time as possible. For one, if a fourth of the available seats are to be added in the fields of medicine and engineering, which is roughly the amounts that need to be reserved for OBC students, the time required to do this under normal circumstances will be anywhere between four and five years. Indeed, Bakul Dholakia, director of the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad (IIM-A), has come out publicly to say that this is not possible since the IIM-A already has its plate full with the ongoing increase in seats for various management programmes. The issue at stake is not just the money required for the increase in the number of class rooms and hostel space at all these institutions (this itself could take a couple of years), but that of finding appropriate faculty. Even existing IITs and IIMs are facing a serious shortage of teachers. So, finding more trained faculty for expansion will be an even bigger challenge. In a situation like this, it is unclear what the Manmohan Singh government and the Congress Party plan to do. Unlike in the past, they cannot even blame ministers from their alliance partners as, in this case, it was a Congress minister who created the unnecessary problem by running with the proposal long before anyone had a chance to think it through. Now that the problem cannot be pushed aside, the only course left for the government is to show the political will and courage to outline a clear action plan and put all its might behind its execution.



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