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No marks for merit

india Updated: Apr 10, 2008 21:24 IST
Hindustan Times
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As part of the Republic of India’s almost 60-year effort to rid the nation of caste discrimination, the Supreme Court has upheld the caste-driven Central Educational Institutions (Reservation in Admission) Act, 2006. This means that the Centre, as shepherded by the vision of Human Resource Development Minister Arjun Singh, will now be able to implement the 27 per cent quota of seats for Other Backward Classes (OBCs) in educational institutions. The latest chunk of reserved seats will be in addition to the the existing 15 per cent and 7.5 per cent quota for Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs) respectively. That amounts to 49.5 per cent of all seats in 20 central universities, and IITs and IIMs reserved for SC/ST/OBCs. We understand that the UPA has an election to win. And what could be more alluring than to give seats to people who matter? But does the UPA know about the candidates that it has earmarked for social engineering? Alas, no, if we know our logic.

For starters, the Rural Development Ministry has only provided the rural figures — 74 per cent of the population — of how many people are ‘OBCs’. Unfortunately, the figures are dodgy, as ‘OBCs’ have been counted according to ‘households’. This, of course, sidesteps the Constitution, that states that every citizen will be treated the same and will be provided with equal opportunities. Alas, the HRD Ministry thinks otherwise when it says that this is a victory of ‘social engineering’. The court, on its part, has said that the ‘creamy layer’ among the OBCs will be excluded from the latest ‘27 per cent’ lot. It also states that this reservation law will not be in perpetuity. Regardless of what the Prime Minister has to say about giving value to merit, the fact is that a ‘social engineering programme’ has been sanctioned by the apex court, and people in support of meritocracy can do little about the ruling.

That the Government of India has chosen caste as the primary basis of what constitutes the section tagged as ‘Socially and Educationally Backward Classes’ is something that the PM and Arjun Singh can (hopefully) quibble over. But for us, a reservation policy that keeps out meritorious people who don’t fall into the ‘quota’ class, our advice is: there is Article 14 of the Constitution that guarantees equal opportunities for all citizens. Laugh at it.

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