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Thursday, 11 May 2006 00:00
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It is a pity that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, as reported in newspapers, remained non-committal through his meeting with Knowledge Commission Chairman Sam Pitroda on the question of jobs reservation. But even if Dr Singh is willing to ignore the don’t-kill-excellence argument that Mr Pitroda and his colleagues made, there is enough hard evidence to show that the kind of reservations he is in favour of will serve no real purpose. The problem, as shown by this newspaper’s reports, do not lie in either the job market, or even at the college level and beyond, but in primary and elementary schools, where there is a very large drop-out ratio.
In terms of the overall job market, the National Sample Survey’s (NSS) 1999 round shows (sadly, the 2005 round data are unlikely to be available till the end of the year) the share of SC/ST and OBCs is 30.8 per cent and 33.5 per cent, figures that are a tad higher than their share in the country’s overall population. In other words, in the overall jobs market, there is no sign of any systemic bias, and therefore nothing that reservation will achieve. Moreover, a little over 14 per cent of all professionals/managers/technicians are SC/ST and the figure is 24.2 per cent for OBC. Both figures are much lower than their share in the population, but that in itself will not get fixed by reservations. If you assume, rightly, that at least a college degree is required for such jobs, then the correct indicator is whether college-educated SC/ST and OBC students are getting what are defined as the top jobs. Again, the answer is yes. The share of SC/ST and OBC students in the top jobs is similar to their share in the total number of college graduates—in other words, even if you want to increase the share of these groups in these jobs, through reservation, you cannot increase it by much since there aren’t enough of these students. To take the example of OBCs, according to the 1999 NSS data, there were a total of 4.7 million OBC students who had graduated and were available for one of the professional jobs. In the same year, the number of OBCs employed in these top jobs was 6 million—in other words, since the pool of the college-educated was low, employers were also willing to look at the high-school passed. If you then extend the pool, and even consider those who have passed out of school, the results don’t change much. Indeed, the chances that an OBC student who has passed either school or college will get a top job is the same, if not higher, than that for a non-SC/ST/OBC Hindu, Sikh or Christian.
Nor does this situation lend itself to, as politicians are wont to suggest, increasing reservations in college-level education. The same data set also shows that the proportion of SC/ST and OBCs among those who are college graduates is similar to their proportion in high school-passed students. This suggests that the problem lies in the supply chain, at middle and therefore primary schools. Unless this is augmented, and the leakages (as in dropouts) reduced, there will not be enough SC/ST/OBCs in colleges, and therefore, in the country’s top jobs. The academic in Dr Singh should be able to appreciate this even if the politician in him may be ambivalent about it.



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