The Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC), meant to be an overarching panel to root out inequalities, risks falling through. A ministerial turf war over its mandate and scope has broken out.
The commission is a poll manifesto promise of the ruling Congress and was recommended by the Sachar Committee, which probed disadvantages faced by Muslims as the largest minority.
Most ministers, tasked with overseeing its creation, want the commission’s jurisdiction restricted just to minorities and the private sector kept out of its scope, sources told HT requesting anonymity.
Without these two crucial mandates, the EOC will just be a shadow of what it was intended to be, experts said. Several countries, including the US and South Africa, have well-entrenched EOCs to promote, among other things, workplace diversity.
Experts say it is important that the EOC covers the private sector as its capacity to offer employment will only increase as Indian economy grows, while government employment is expected to shrink.
In the third Group of Ministers’ meeting on the proposed commission held on Thursday, most ministers — barring law minister Veerappa Moily and minority affairs minister Salman Khurshid — preferred a narrower mandate for the EOC.
The Rajinder Sachar Committee had recommended incentives to prod the private sector on taking diversity initiatives.
“The intention was to have an EOC that would cater to all deprived sections, not minorities alone,” Rajinder Sachar told HT.
The Equal Opportunities Commission Bill, when passed, will give India its first equality law designed to prevent discriminations from taking root. The last UPA government had formed an expert committee to suggest its nature and scope.
Sociologist Satish Dehspande, a member of the committee, said: “There was a unanimous feeling in the committee that the EOC should not be only for minorities, fixed groups or a specified captive constituency. This should be our chance to rise above the adhocism that characterises our policy responses on social justice issues.”
The equality commission, like those in many multi-ethnic Western nations, was to have set up best practices codes and equality benchmarks for all sectors, such as employment, housing and education and ensure these are adhered to. But several ministries feel such an overarching panel would encroach upon their respective domains.