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Affirmative Action plan looks to SA, US

The Indian AA strategy is likely to transpose in part the experiences of these nations to avoid the pitfalls on the way.

india Updated: Apr 26, 2006 01:36 IST

Trying to put the reservation versus the affirmative action controversy in perspective in the Indian context, the government is closely studying the models followed by the US and South Africa for inclusive growth. The Indian AA strategy is likely to transpose in part the experiences of these nations to avoid the pitfalls on the way, according to sources close to the developments.

While the underlying spirit of AA in both countries remains that it makes economic sense to grow the number of people who participate in the economy, both reject the philosophy of having ‘set-asides’ for specific groups. The regulations in both nations prohibit quota and preferential hiring and promotions under the guise of affirmative action.

In South Africa, there have been important pieces of legislation like Competition Act, Employment Equity Act, and other initiatives like National Empowerment Fund, to give teeth to Black Economic Empowerment Commission (BEE) strategy. But the country, too, has gone in for a mid-term correction realising that the major beneficiaries of BEE were politically connected people and there was too much concentration on ownership and too little on skill development. This led to the passage of the Skills Development Act, where all the major banks among others participated actively to enhance the employability of marginalised workforce, according to sources.

The US AA policies are based on what President Lyndon B. Johnson described  as: “You cannot take a person who for years has been hobbled by chains and liberate him, bring him up to the starting line in a race and then say, ‘you are free to compete with all the others,’ and still justly believe that you have been completely fair”.

Even though the AA policies in the US started as an effort to assure equality to groups that were historically discriminated against and to reduce ethnic and racial inequalities, over the years, a series of Supreme Court rulings have narrowed the permissible scope of the policies.