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Are emotions obscuring facts in reservation debate?

The clamour over a Government proposal to set a quota for OBCs in educational institutions has calmed down due to the EC's intervention.

india Updated: Apr 17, 2006 15:08 IST

The clamour over a Government proposal to set a quota for Other Backward Classes (OBCs) in educational institutions has calmed down due to the Election Commission's intervention, but the debate may continue with emotions obscuring facts.

While supporters of the recent statement by Human Resource Development Minister Arjun Singh on 27 per cent reservation for the OBCs claimed that opposition to it was "absurd", those protesting against it say the quota will lead to a fall in quality of education and argue that merit should be the criterion for selecting applicants, not their social background.

For those who back the Government's move to provide reservation for backward communities, it is a matter of justice to a section of people that constitutes 70 per cent of India's billion-plus population and has been denied access to higher education for decades.

They say the issue was blown out of proportion by the media.

"Some vested interests are playing a big game over the issue," a senior minister in Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's Cabinet said.

The minister, who did not want to be named and belongs to a socially underprivileged class, rubbished reports that questioned Arjun Singh's motive behind the move.

"When Parliament has passed an amendment (for quotas) and the president has given his assent to it and the cabinet has discussed the issue, how can it be the decision of a single minister?" he asked.

The minister also asked why the protestors and the media were raising the issue at a time when the Government had decided to provide reservation for the backward classes by passing an amendment to the constitution in December.

Kamal Mitra Chenoy, a professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University, too termed the protests as "upper-caste hysteria".

However, Chenoy said the Government needed to increase the total number of seats in order to set the additional quota for OBCs. "The cake is too small to be shared among many," he said.

"The Government has allocated only Rs 2.8 billion for education. It's very low. One must remember we are in a situation in which only 10 per cent of the total eligible people go to colleges," Chenoy pointed out.

Parliament had last year passed an amendment to the constitution to provide reservation for OBCs, which was assented to by President APJ Abdul Kalam on January 20. Later, a draft bill was framed and sent to the Cabinet secretariat for consideration.

If implemented, the new policy could take the overall reservation in state-run educational institutions to 49.5 per cent from the current 22.5 per cent that is reserved for the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes.

The anti-reservation campaign started after Arjun Singh recently announced the proposal for 27 per cent reservation for OBCs in educational institutions run by the Government.