Given how caste colours politics in Bihar, it isn’t surprising that the state government has approved 50% reservation in the superior and subordinate judiciary, a move that was earlier quashed by the Patna High Court before the Supreme Court ordered that such reservation was the state’s prerogative. Indeed, the state has been trying to implement this since 1991.
What is alarming, though, is that after almost seven decades of Independence, governments are having to fall back on reservation, with the welfare logic proffered almost always hides electoral calculations. The Bihar government’s move comes in the backdrop of the SC setting two deadlines—January 1, for the government to complete notifying its reservation policy after consultation with Patna HC, and June 30, for filling 406 vacancies for junior civil judges in the state. Though the tight deadlines could have provided strong motivation for the policy, with the Centre also mulling over such a move—the PM had spoken of a National Judicial Services cadre that could bring Dalits into the judiciary—there is no telling if the ruling coalition in the state didn’t have political one-upmanship in mind, too. However, policy-makers in Bihar, as also elsewhere in the country, would do better to remember that populist moves such as these—Karnataka’s 100% quota in blue-collar jobs for Kannadigas is another recent example—end up undermining any real long-term development.
There is enough data to substantiate the point that facilitating quality education will reap richer rewards for the disadvantaged classes than reservation. PRICE’s all-India survey for 2013-14 shows upper caste households headed by an illiterate person earned R87,862 per year versus R138,037 for tribal (reserved category) households headed by people who had studied till primary or middle school. The goal therefore has to be creating an environment for scheduled castes and other disadvantaged groups to avail of high-quality education and attain at least university-level competence, not reserving jobs.
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A report by the National Commission for Schedule Castes, on reservation in the judiciary, argued for it saying reservation in premier institutes like the National Law Schools can create a talented pool of legal professionals from socially and economically disadvantaged communities. It is oblivious to the fact that such a pool of talented professionals will not need reservations in the first place. And if students getting into colleges under reservation do need further quotas for jobs, then reservation as a policy clearly isn’t working.
In the specific context of reservation in judiciary, the Punjab and Haryana High Court, hearing a plea for lowering qualification marks for scheduled caste and tribal candidates, had observed “in the matter of appointment to Judicial Services, efficiency and quality are non-negotiable”, and had quashed the plea. The political class needs to pay greater heed to the HC’s words.