After winning the battle over OBC quotas in state-funded institutions, HRD minister Arjun Singh is inclined to revive the move for quotas in private institutions too, sources close to him said.
In the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA), a section, including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, is not enthusiastic about private sector quotas. But allies such as the DMK and RJD as well as the Left will push for a law.
“The Left wants the same laws applicable to all educational institutions, whether aided or unaided, in admissions. We also want social control over fees and salaries,” said Sitaram Yechury, CPM politburo member.
A draft bill for regulating private institutions — including provisions for reservations — was prepared by the HRD Ministry in 2006, but was put on the backburner after the OBC quota proposal turned into a political hot potato. A group of ministers, comprising Pranab Mukherjee, P Chidambaram and Arjun Singh, formed to sort out the matter never met ever since it went to court. With the Supreme Court getting out of its way, the HRD Ministry is already exploring the options.
“My party wants a bill for reservation in private educational institutions too,” said Union minister Ram Vilas Paswan.
However, the alternate view within the government is against forcing quotas on private institutions and is best reflected in the report of the National Knowledge Commission that suggested a series of measures other than quotas, to make private education more accessible.
The 93rd constitutional amendment authorised the government to legislate reservations even in private educational institutions. The Supreme Court judgment upheld it, but said the issue of private sector could be open to a judicial scrutiny. The government can, however, move ahead with a bill.
The entire debate over the OBC reservation was a spillover of the government’s attempts to force a quota on private institutions. The 93rd amendment was brought to overturn a Supreme Court ruling that the state cannot impose quotas or fee structure on institutions not funded by it. It authorised the government to make “any special provision” in institutions “whether aided or unaided by the state.”
During the debate in Parliament, members pointed out the irony of the government seeking quota in private institutions while its own institutions did not have OBC quotas. The OBC quota bill was an outcome of the debate, but in the heat and dust of it, the original one was buried.
“The spirit of the 93rd amendment will be fulfilled only when the bill on private sector education is passed,” said Yechury.
Reservation in private sector is a highly sensitive matter for the UPA government, walking the tightrope between social justice and promotion of private sector, two ideals it swears by.