The Supreme Court’s decision to stay the operation of the quota system, which would have given 27 per cent reservation to Other Backward Classes (OBCs) in central elite institutions like the IIMs and the IITs, is bound to stir up a hornet’s nest. The apex court’s reasoning is that the 1931 Census on OBCs is not a good enough determinant for establishing the quota. It has also expressed the view that quotas should not be allowed to perpetuate backwardness. Few can actually fault this judgment. While affirmative action is required in a society with such huge socio-economic disparities as India, its parameters cannot be cast in stone. It must be reviewed and scaled down constantly to keep pace with economic and social progress. In any case, it should not be allowed in institutions of higher learning where the only criteria should be merit.
We are rightly proud of our IIMs and IITs, which are on par with the best in the world. Its competitive edge ensures that the best come out of these schools. Quotas, which have become more a political tool than having been borne out of a compulsion to help the downtrodden, cannot be allowed to dilute standards. To perpetuate the quota system is to do a disservice to the OBCs themselves. Many of them have been able to take advantage of a rapidly modernising India and would prefer to enter any institution on their own merit. It is counterproductive and condescending towards them to imagine that they will welcome such spoonfeeding for all time to come.
The Supreme Court has wisely decided to steer clear of the issue of SC/ST reservation in institutions of higher learning. Much will depend on how the OBC ruling plays out. This ruling is in consonance with the Supreme Court verdict that said it can strike down any law in the Ninth Schedule that violates the structure of the Constitution. In other words, it sought to establish its supremacy over Parliament, a move that really set the cat among the pigeons. The verdict is bound to raise political hackles and already many parties have jumped into the fray to denounce it. India is on the verge of becoming a major economic player. This cannot happen unless we have quality talent in all fields. A mindless quota system will hamper this.