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No cut in general category seats

CWC is meeting on May 20 to discuss the issue and guide the government.

india Updated: May 18, 2006 22:03 IST

Facing mounting protests, government on Thursday began formal talks with striking medicos assuring them that the seats in the general category will not come down due to reservation as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh plans to begin consultations with political parties from Monday. 

With a political problem glaring at its face, the Congress Working Committee is meeting on May 20 to discuss the issue in a move seen as attempts to guide the government.

Several partners of the coalition has are favouring immediate implementation of the reservation policy.

On a hectic day on the reservation front, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met a delegation of CPI leaders and told them that the government was committed to the proposed reservation but told them that there were "apprehensions" among some sections and "we have to find a way out".

The group of ministers headed by Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee on Thursday held its first meeting with medical students striking against a proposal reserving seats for backward classes in elite educational institutions and central universities.

The students were told by the Committee that a mechanism was being worked out by which the number of seats in the general category would not come down with the implementation of the new reservation policy.

Apart from Finance Minister P Chidambaram and HRD Minister Arjun Singh, who were present at the meeting, Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar and Health Minister Anbumani Ramdoss were also co-opted into it.

Officials said the ministers assured them that a mechanism would be worked out to protect the general category's share, especially in medical institutions.

However, it was also pointed out that working out such a mechanism would take time as increasing the number of seats was not easy as it was coupled with infrastructural problems like raising the number of teachers and other facilities.

The striking doctors maintained that government has not given them any assurance on their demands for a roll back of the proposed quota and setting up of a non-political judicial commission to look into the entire issue. They want a statement from the Prime Minister on the issue.

"We put forward our point of view and they came out with their suggestions. Talks are expected to continue," Dr Harsh, a representative of the Resident Doctors Association of AIIMS and 'Youth for Equality' told reporters after meeting the ministers.

Later, Mukherjee, Ramadoss and another Minister Oscar Fernandes held another round of talks with representatives of agitating doctors. He will also hold discussions with parties.

Meanwhile, Congress spokesman Rajiv Shukla said the Prime Minister will begin consultations with political parties on finding a way out of the impasse.

Shukla described the group of ministers as "formal committee" of the Cabinet.

The agenda for the Congress Working Committee has not been fixed yet but sources say the reservation issue would be the main subject for discussion since this would be the first meeting after the issue has come up at the Centre of political stage.

Shukla said plans were also afoot for a meeting of the UPA Coordination Committee soon. Sources said it could be held on May 22 coinciding with the completion of two years of UPA in office.