PROMISES OF RESERVATIONS for one group of people or another are not uncommon in election manifestos. In the latest instance of an election promise being fulfilled, the Telangana government has passed a Bill that would take the overall quota for reservations to 62%. Since, in the Indra Sawhney case, the Supreme Court (SC) had capped reservations at 49%,Chandrashekhar Rao’s fledgling government—which wants more reservations for Muslims and some scheduled tribes—is in breach of the law and will probably seek shelter under the Ninth Schedule of the Constitution. Though BJP MLAs in the state have protested,saying this is against the Constitution which prohibits religion-based reservations, they would do well to keep in mind that, at the BJP conclave in Odisha, none other than the prime minister has just argued the backwards amongst Muslims must also get the benefits of OBC quotas.The issue is not of quotas for Muslims,it is of breaching the 49% ceiling set by SC and of increasing demands for breaching this.
There is enough evidence to show education is, today, the surest way to increase income levels—the PRICE all-India survey showed that while 17% of SC (scheduled caste) households had at least one matriculate and earned `1.7 lakh per annum in 2013-14,a more or less similar proportion of upper caste households did not have even one matriculate and so earned substantially less.That is why,in the face of increased demands for reservations from prosperous communities who feel they are losing out, state governments are trying to bring them under the ambit of quotas. In March, 2016, the Haryana government passed a bill to provide 10% reservation in government jobs and educational institutions for Jats and five other castes in the state after a violent agitation by the Jats.Gujarat is struggling with ways to accommodate Hardik Patel’s crusade for the Patel community to be included in the list of OBCs.
As more groups are added to the reserved list and squeeze out the incumbents, the latter will protest; if the quota is expanded beyond 49%, merit will take a serious hit. Also, if reservation for teachers is going to affect teaching standards, to what extent does this hurt the prospects of students, including those who get there through reservations? On occasion,the courts will step in— in IR Coelho, SC had ruled the Ninth Schedule was not sacrosanct if a law violated Constitutional provisions on fundamental rights; but in many other cases, courts have ruled in favour of extending reservations to promotions. So,while political parties will continue to use quotas to win elections, politicians must ponder over what the endgame will be—ratcheting up demands for reservations, as now,will onlyworsen matters.It is unfortunate that reservations continue when they should be shrinking.