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Limiting equity

While founding fathers envisaged reservations for the SC and STs for a limited period of time, but the politicians of today have grossly misused it.

india Updated: Apr 07, 2006 04:21 IST

By now it should be clear that quotas and reservations are an ineffective remedy for inequality. But clearly, HRD Minister Arjun Singh thinks otherwise because he has declared that the government will soon up the reservation limit in central and state universities to 49.5 per cent. Mandalising higher education is yet another instance of populism that has run riot. While founding fathers envisaged reservations for the scheduled castes and tribes for a limited period of time, their heirs, the politicians of today have made the idea a fetish to buttress political careers. It is one thing to provide a socially disadvantaged people a leg-up, and quite another to create a separate caste of people who have privileged access to seats in educational institutions and jobs. Yet, ask any doctor or engineer who has graduated with the tag of ‘quota’ and it will be clear that the procedure has failed to achieve genuine equality-- which can only come through a process based purely on merit.

Instead of promoting a process that would boost the self-esteem of the erstwhile socially-disadvantaged groups by bringing them on par with their better-off counterparts, the government persists on an outdated path that seeks to do the opposite-- by providing a seat in a college or a job, as a grant. As it is, anyone looking at the working of the Indian university system, especially in the Hindi-speaking heartland from where the minister hails, will know that adding a quota system is not likely to resolve much. The universities are in a state of terminal decline and only extraordinary measures would be able to resuscitate them. Yet, instead of focusing on the task of enhancing the quality of education all around and making it relevant to the requirements of the job market, the ministry seems bent on pursuing the chimera of promoting equity in the higher education system. In the process, the outcome could well be the debasement of the institutions that are now being targeted.

As of now, Mr Singh’s declaration is a statement of intent because, he says sotto voce, that the formal declaration can only be made after the elections. Perhaps this gives some time for the government to carefully think through the consequences of such a decision.

First Published: Apr 07, 2006 04:02 IST