The UPA government will roll out a new Bill within the next 100 days to set up an Equal Opportunities Commission, which will for the first time take the country’s broader goal of affirmative action for disadvantaged groups beyond the limited tool of quota or reservation.
Once functional, it will create “equality benchmarks” and “fair practices code” for all levels of the government and the private sector in fields like employment and education, and ensure these are followed. This will remove social inequalities.
For example, while hiring, if the candidate is a woman, loss of workdays due to future maternity leave should not be unfairly weighed in. In case of the housing sector, mandatory allotment of a percentage of apartments for Muslim applicants, who frequently face discrimination, could be a possible best practice.
“The best practices will differ from sector to sector — police, housing, education, justice so on and so forth. This is a homework the commission will have to do,” Prof Javeed Alam of the Indian Council of Social Science Research said from Hyderabad.
Alam was one of the members of the Equal Opportunities Expert Group set up by the last UPA government to suggest the functions and scope of the proposed commission, which had submitted its report in February 2008.
The commission will have standard powers of a civil court to probe discrimination and suggest action. It will, at the end of the year, table a National Equal Opportunity Status Report before Parliament on compliance by different sectors.
The Sachar Committee, which recommended the commission, was a high-level panel appointed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in his last tenure to go into the causes of disadvantages faced by India’s 150-million Muslims.
The commission would, however, not address Muslims alone but all “socially significant groups” that face or perceive discrimination.
The commission is also designed to eliminate fresh demands by newer groups for special favours like reservation by rooting out inequality.
The Bill will be initiated by the ministry of minority affairs, which has started inter-ministerial dialogue to iron out overlaps with other functioning commissions like the Backward Commission.
Once notes from other ministries are received, as is required, a draft Bill would be prepared by the minority affairs ministry, which would then be vetted by the law ministry. A cabinet note, proposing the legislation, would be circulated among ministers. After clearance, the draft legislation would be sent to cabinet secretary for being moved as a law.
Asked when these would be completed, Minority Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid told HT: “Within next 100 days. There are no ifs and buts about setting up the commission.”
“The commission will exclude no one and pre-include no one,” sociologist Satish Deshpande, another expert group member, told HT.
The expert group’s report included a model draft Bill, which proposes “equality auditing”. This means the commission will see to what extent its codes are being followed by different sector like police, institutions or employers and then come out with status reports.
“Deprived group” will mean any group lacking in opportunities for reasons beyond their control. The commission would identify such “deprived groups” with a “Deprivation Index” based on data.
It will investigate practices/presence of inequality of opportunities, particularly in education and employment and also propose remedial measures.