Quota within OBC quotas a half-solution

By: |
February 19, 2021 7:40 AM

Rohini commission formula doesn’t end ‘hierarchy’; income-based quotas a better approach

However, no matter how it is spun, the formula can hardly be thought of as progressive. (Representative image)However, no matter how it is spun, the formula can hardly be thought of as progressive. (Representative image)

Even the most committed supporters of reservations will agree that the policy has reinforced its own ‘hierarchy’, with dominant groups within the reserved categories cornering the largest share over decades. This has not only meant the most vulnerable don’t benefit from these but also demand for similar reservations from groups that can’t be considered socially or economically deprived. Faced with potential electoral consequences, governments have given in to such demands; think of the Maratha reservations in Maharashtra or the Jat quota in Haryana.

Against such a backdrop, the recommendation of the Centre-constituted Justice G Rohini commission (as reported by The Economic Times), that the 2,633 other backward classes (OBC) communities in the central list be grouped under four categories—1, 2, 3 and 4—and be given 2%, 6%, 9% and 10% reservation (accordingly divvying up the 27% OBC quota), respectively, to end certain communities’ capture of the reservation benefits would seem a step in the right direction. The Rohini commission, as per a report in The Print last year, found that less than 1% of the OBC communities had cornered 50% of the OBC quota benefits in admission to central institutes/universities and recruitment for central government employment, while a fifth of the castes making up the OBC pool didn’t receive such benefits at all between 2014 and 2018. Another fifth accounted for merely 2.7% of the benefits. However, no matter how it is spun, the formula can hardly be thought of as progressive.

The Rohini commission earmarks1,674 caste groups for category 1, 534 for category 2, 328 for category 3 and 97 for category 1. While the proportional representation (by population) formula may ensure no one misses out, it doesn’t really end the dominance of certain castes, given the most powerful communities get the largest share of the OBC pie under the formula, as per the ET report, thereby perpetuating the existing inequities within the OBCs.

Beyond this, syncing with states’ will prove a nightmare since not only do eleven states already have their own sub-categorisation of OBCs—a new central sub-categorisation will need tallying with the states’ list, and this will create friction if one OBC caste dominant within a state suddenly finds itself in the 6% or 2% list—but also the share of OBCs from different states in central admissions/appointments over 2014-2019, as per the commission findings, varied greatly.

Most important, all such formulations merely sidestep the problem created by having endless reservation rather than addressing it. Data from research agency PRICE, as has been pointed out by this paper on many occasions, shows education levels are a more reliable determinant of socioeconomic prosperity than caste—indeed, an SC household headed by even a matriculate has a higher average income, per PRICE data, than a general category household headed by a person without school education.

To that end, focusing on improving access to education and focusing on comprehensively driving up learning outcomes—for this, nutritional security through school-meals will play as important a role as learning support to teach at the right level—will help more than flogging the reservation horse, albeit changing whips from time to time. If at all reservation is to be looked at as a solution, then considering household economic condition as a determinant of eligibility will likely have a more positive impact since education often gets interrupted because of poverty.

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