IS SC/ST immortal?

Quota In Perpetuity

By Poonam I Kaushish

Indians are succors for tamasha and trust our politicians to convert reservation into a big circus. Last week the Supreme Court was grappling again with this vexatious issue: Providing promotion for Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST) in Government jobs. Raising a moot point: Are quotas immortal? Merit be damned!
“Suppose a person by virtue of reservation gets into IAS and becomes secretary through reservation in promotion. Can a very senior bureaucrat’s grandson and great-grandson be treated as backward for promotion in employment, and that too in perpetuity?”queried the Court while hearing arguments whether backwardness of SC and ST should persist forever, requiring the perpetuation of quotas?
Vehemently supporting quota in promotion for the SC/ST communities, the Government wanted the 2006 Nagaraj judgment revisited by which the top court had laid down the criteria for reservation in promotion. One, reservations in promotions could be allowed if only there is quantifiable data to determine backwardness of the employee, two, determine adequacy of SC/ST representation in jobs and three, keep the overall efficiency in administration in mind while granting promotion
Countered those against reservation, can these be in perpetuity? When does backwardness supercede equality assured by our Constitution and equal opportunities in public employment? Is it fair that a meritorious person is denied promotion because the elevation quota is full? Where does he head?
Does it make sense if someone with 90% in engineering sells medicines while a Dalit with 40% becomes a doctor, thanks to reservation? What purpose does quota serve when an officer is unable to cope with the decision-making process? Are caste-based reservations the answer for maintaining India’s social fabric and harmony? How does it better the lot of the SC/ST if a few get jobs?
Certainly, social justice is a desirable and laudable goal and it is the Government’s fundamental mission to uplift the poor and backward classes, educate and provide them equal opportunities. Moreover, reservation for the ‘weak’ SC and ST is important against the backdrop of their abysmal representation in Government jobs and denial of promotion in the upper echelons of service where decision-taking power vests.
However, how will reservation in promotion per se better the lot of the SC/ST if a few get promoted? When do promotions supercede competence? It cannot be at the cost of nurturing mediocrity. Once you are a Class-I officer, you cease to belong from the backward class. Alongside, it is equally dangerous to indulge in stoking rivalries on the facetious reason that it to uplift the down-trodden.
Shockingly, according to Government sources departments and public sector undertakings find it hard to find competent and eligible officers to fill vacancies via promotions. Even in cases of employment which require technical education like diploma, B Tech or graduation the SC/STs failed to make the grade due to lack of education and expertise.
Pertinently, the danger in imposing arbitrary promotion quotas in Government is three-fold. One, working and excellence standards would be crippled by ineptitude, ineffiency and backlog. Two, it would be difficult to attract and retain qualified people as they could lose out in the promotion race. Three, any deterioration in the quality of governance would short-change the NDA’s quest to market Brand India’s economic growth. Whose USP lies in the brain, skills and expertise of its educated and skilled manpower.
Remember, there is no place for double standards or the Orwellian concept of ‘more equal than others’ in a democracy. What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. The Fundamental Rights provide for equal opportunities for all irrespective of caste, creed or sex. Let’s not fudge or forget this. Also, one cannot put a cap on human development.
Undoubtedly, reservation is not the sole panacea for eradicating poverty, nor is it a guarantee that members of castes will get Government jobs or seats in Parliament and State Assemblies. By that token, the whole social reform movement will become meaningless. Our leaders should remember that universalisation of reservation will mean goodbye to excellence and standards — a ‘must’ for any modern nation that wishes to forge ahead.
How will the champions of Reservation Raj Government respond if SC/STs and OBCs demand 50% seats reservation in Parliament and State Legislatures? And how about having at least 27% reserved Ministerial posts? And each caste begins to complain of non-representation in Parties or Government departments? Look how the proposal for 33 per cent reservation for women in Parliament and State Legislatures has been hanging fire for over a decade. Let charity begin at home.
Unsurprisingly, a backlash has set in, with members of the forward castes decrying the unfairness of affirmative action in perpetuity, and asking whether it is reasonable, for instance, that the daughter of a senior Government servant from a backward caste should benefit from reservations while the son of his upper-caste driver or clerk competes for limited unreserved seats. How is the Government going to tackle reverse discrimination?
This, in turn, would lead to a subsequent slowdown in the economy and end up hurting the chances of economic upliftment for the people who are at the bottom of the economic ladder. Further, it would lead to a brain drain and disillusionment of qualified and well deserving people.
Some argue that reservations should no longer be caste-based but tied only to economic criteria, with the poorest of all castes benefiting from them rather than the better-off of some castes. Counter those in favour of quotas the stigma of untouchability continues, no matter however prosperous a Dalit family, as many upper-caste Indians would not grant it respect unless its members enjoyed the status that comes with, for instance, a Government position.
India of 2018 is not the India of 1989 where a young 18-year old student, Rajiv Goswami immolated himself in public. Today our polity has to realise that it has to deal with a savvy Rang de Basanti generation aged between 18-35 years who constitute 50% population and believe in action not reaction.
They seek jobs on merit in an over-crowed employment market where the labour force is growing 3.5% annually, employment is rising by 2.3% resulting in increasing joblessness. Over 6000 have applied for 10 joint secretary jobs advertised by the Modi Government. Thus, none has given thought to the challenge of absorbing new entrants to the job market, 12 million every year and clearing the backlog. In this scenario where do quotas fit?
Indeed, the time has come for our polity to think creatively about how to achieve the goal of putting everyone on equal footing. Merely having quotas in promotion will not spell excellence. Towards that end, they need to develop innovative ways of making SC/STs qualified thereby enabling them to compete with the general category. By cramming down promotional quotas in jobs is like putting the cart before the horse.
In the ultimate, our petty power-at all-cost polity has to think beyond vote-bank politics and quotas which are divisive and self-defeating whereby struggle between backwards and forwards is more meaningful than Left and Right in politics. The Government must rethink the entire reservation policy and stop the blind application of quotas. If this situation is not corrected now, India will soon become a State of incompetence and mediocrity. The buck stops at Modi’s door. — INFA