By K Raveendran
We sing paeans for a casteless and egalitarian society, at the same time promote caste identity not just for feeling secure socially but to claim economic benefits on all possible grounds, including reservation. And the worst part is that we do not want to acknowledge this dichotomy.
The five-member constitutional bench of the Supreme Court hearing the case relating to Maratha reservation issue has for once exposed the hypocrisy. The court has spoken about the possibility of all reservations going, with only quota for economically weaker sections remaining. “This may be a beginning, all reservations may go and only EWS may remain, but these are all policies”, presiding judge Justice Ashok Bhushan observed. But he was careful to mention that it was for parliament or the legislatures to decide on this all-important issue.
Political parties pandering to the vote banks want reservations to be raised beyond the 50 percent ceiling set by statute and various court decisions. But every new addition in the reservation eligibility is a threat to the existing beneficiaries and this has led to serious conflicts among the affected parties.
SC-STs and other backward classes have been wronged against for centuries and there are no two opinions as to the need for them to be helped to come up in life. But at some point of time, it has to be examined if the handholding is actually serving its original purpose of empowering these sections to stand up to competition, or is it stunting their potential for growth and personality development.
It is high time we realized that reservation is a means of supporting underprivileged sections to neutralise their disadvantages and give them a head start. It is certainly not a privilege, the kind of which will become an entitlement for life and then be inherited by future generations. Such a privilege negates the very purpose of providing reservation. If the arrangement does not lift the beneficiaries to a level they can match the rest in terms of competence and calibre, there is no case for continuing such benefit.
The objective of any such policy has to be the upliftment of these sections and not conferring a privilege on a selected few. It is a travesty of justice and fairness if the grandchildren of an IAS officer, who got into service on the basis of reservation, should also get the same preferential treatment when they compete with the rest.
Reservation has been demanded not just for initial access to opportunities, but as a guarantee of preferred treatment for life. Having enjoyed the benefits of coveted jobs or positions, there have been numerous cases where the beneficiaries demand the same protection in the matter of promotions as well. There have been several judgments to the effect that employees belonging to the reservation categories cannot demand promotion as a matter of right and that it is left to the discretion of the government.
Unfortunately, reservation is not an issue that concerns only SC-STs. Since the total availability of jobs or educational seats is not infinite, reservation in favour of one particular section has an effect on the rest of the population. There are also other deserving people who suffer equal level of economic and opportunity deprivation, but do not get any consideration simply because they belong to a community outside the reservation universe. Any policy that treats subjects unfairly is a bad policy and needs to be changed.
We have had any number of cases where members of the backward classes have occupied the highest offices of the nation. And each one of them attained the eminence on the basis of their own merit and not because those seats were reserved for them. Quotas are a means of empowerment in a limited sense. It can work at certain levels and for certain roles. The role of a dispensing clerk in a medical facility can be performed by a person with limited skill, but the surgeon supposed to carry out complicated surgical operations cannot be decided on the basis of reservation, much in the same way as quotas cannot work in constituting a space mission team. A skill deficit of even a fraction of a per cent will only make the mission end up in smoke in outer space.
Quotas can at best act like a catalytic agent that reacts with a material. It can never replace the material itself. But unfortunately, that is what those who clamour for more and more quotas desire. (IPA Service)