Monday, July 12, 2010

Time to review 27% OBC quota in education?

This is the third academic year after Supreme Court on April 10,2008, upheld the legislation providing 27% reservation for OBCs in admissions to central educational institutions. The apex court had excluded the creamy layer from the 27% quota benefit and said unfilled seats would be go back to the general category. The government had also assured the court that general-category seats would not shrink as institutions would create more seats to absorb the reservation requirement. We can discount the chaos of filling the seats created for OBCs under the Central Educational Institutions (Reservation in Admissions) Act, 2007, in 2008-09 as teething problem despite the admission process getting extended till October. However, the data for the next two academic years gives an impression that the quantum of 27% may have been far in excess of what was needed to meet the demographic demand.

In 2009-10, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) transferred 83 of the 413 seats reserved for OBCs to the general category. Of the 10, 183 OBC seats in Delhi University, there were no takers for nearly 2,300 seats. This year too, Delhi University is witnessing a similar story. University officials are fearing that nearly 6,000 seats may get transferred to general category for want of suitable candidates from backward classes, despite the cut-off being 10 marks less than the last general category candidate taking admission in the institution.

The general category may not be complaining. But the increased number of seats will definitely put pressure on the already stretched faculty, library facilities and allied educational resources available with the institution. This is what happens when the political class, without any scientific survey, fixes quota without identifying what constitutes backwardness in the social and educational maze. SC repeatedly warned against this, right from Indra Sawhney judgment in 1992 till the Ashoka Kumar Thakur judgment in 2008.

Socially and educationally backward classes (SEBCs), who are entitled for the 27% reservation in government-run colleges and institutions, are at present determined solely on the basis of the backwardness of their caste. In both these judgments relating to OBC reservation in employment and admission, the apex court had stressed that caste could not be the sole criterion for identifying the social and educational backwardness of a person.

So, without a proper identification of SEBCs, their number was guesstimated and a percentage of seats kept reserved. SC realized it but was hampered without contradicting data to fault the socially affirmative action. That is why it suggested periodic review of the quantum of quota as well as the necessity of reservation in admission for SEBCs. There must be periodic review as to the desirability of continuing operation of the statute Central Educational Institutions (Reservations in Admission Act,2007). This shall be done once every five years, the bench had said in Ashoka Thakur case.

Is the government prepared to review working of the 2007 law? If not, then it could utilize the opportunity provided by the census to determine the exact number of persons to be included in the socially and educationally backward category to help work out the percentage of reservation needed.

Article by Dhananjay Mahapatra
Source: The Times of India, July 12, 2010

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