Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Some more on reservation

A bunch of links.

First up is someone whom I respect a lot: Pratap Bhanu Mehta. In his column in the Indian Express, he makes the point that while reservation for SC/ST folks is okay, that for OBC folks is not.

Next, Chandra Bhan Prasad has a column in today's ToI, which describes him as "an ideologue on Dalit issues"! He argues strongly for reservation not to OBCs but to MBCs. (See a short summary of his views here).

What these viewpoints tell me is that 'getting reservation right' is a tough task, requiring a lot of hard work. This is an area where public policy has to be informed by solid, unimpeachable social science research. Shivam's post (here) and an earlier post by Dilip (here) indicate that the Mandal Commission had done such research before it made those famous reservations recommendations.

But, I am not aware of any research into how well reservation itself has worked in practice. Take the example of Tamil Nadu, where 69% reservation (for SC/ST, BC and MBC) has been the norm for over two decades. Who have been the beneficiaries? Are they predominantly those from the so-called 'creamy layer', as is alleged often? How well has the system worked there [see below for an ex-high ranking official's opinion on this question]? How well have the beneficiaries performed vis a vis the students in the general category? These are questions that are worth having an answer to; perhaps someone has already researched these issues. If it has not been done, can one invoke RTI to get this information from the government?

Tamil Nadu is interesting in another way: the opportunity to get professional education [in engineering (thanks Aswin!)] has expanded so vastly that reservation is effectively a non-issue there. Sure, the quality of education is an issue, and competition for top colleges is intense. But, there is enough (in fact, much more than enough!) to go around for everyone.

Am I right in suggesting that getting rid of scarcity of educational opportunities is one way of rendering the reservation question moot?

Back to the links thread. S. Narayanan, former finance secretary and former economic advisor to the PM, says something interesting:

In my state of Tamil Nadu, communal rotation for state government jobs was introduced by a government order in 1932, several years before independence. Only every twelfth to fifteenth job could be given to a forward community candidate. The ‘forward communities’ had much stricter admission criteria at every level in education, and reservations have been at over 69% for several decades now.

These reservations have done more good than harm. The competition for the top 10% of marks in any public examination clearly demonstrates the advantages of affirmative action. There is no evidence that reservations have resulted in a decline in standards of skills or technology in the state.
Yet, he deplores the current proposal to extend reservation to central universities. Reason?
[Reservation] is an attempt to exercise political control over the body of the private owners of the institutions—to make sure they acknowledge and respect the mandates of the state, and are therefore unable to exercise any societal or political independence. It is an exercise to curb commercial activity and, indeed, an act of jealousy that a group can prosper without the umbrella of the state.

At the next level, having failed in enunciating a policy for improving the job markets for higher education graduates, it is an attempt to share out the small pie of the IIT and IIM admissions to their political clientele as a measure of vote catching. The efforts may yield some more OBC and SC/ST graduates from these institutions, but not provide any improved opportunities for the millions in other higher education institutions.

Finally, quietly, it is an empowerment of the bureaucracy, of the babus and the regulators, who can now visit, examine, ask questions and be feted by a much larger number of institutions than they would otherwise have been able to.

What is not clear to me is why only 'reservation for OBCs' will bring all these ills to life now, when 'reservation for for SC/ST folks' has been working fine for over many decades.

Last, but certainly not the least, Falstaff has this post with a comprehensive set of arguments about why reservation or quota system is a bad idea. [Hat tip: Veena]


  1. Anonymous said...

    Again,please dont say "reservation is a non-issue in TN". How did u come to this conclusion?? Why do you completely forget the case of medical students??. I have given the relevant statistics in the other post.

    You say
    "But, there is enough (in fact, much more than enough!) to go around for everyone"
    This is plain wrong in the case of medicine. There is 'nothing' to go around.

  2. Anonymous said...

    Some clear thinking from - where else? - The Pioneer. Since it doesn't archive well I have posted the entire article. Funny, Abi, you should talk of the Main Stream Media. The MSM in India is almost post-nationalistic in its attitude. Led by that Stalinist appendage The Hindu; and its rags, the NDTV stable, and the family run loudspeaker SunTV; the MSM is very much pro-establishment. The voices of reason and clarity are rarely heard excepting for some sparks of sense in the Indian Express and of course The Pioneer.

    The tiers of OC, BC, MBC, SC and ST are too broad and diverse to make any administrative sense. And quite a bit has changed in the last 16 years since Mandal as you can read from the people quoted below here. Wonder what T.Jayaraman thinks of fellow-commie Yechury's principle of matching quantity, quality, and equity. There's another factor at play here. India now has very large numbers of sub-25 people. And as the economy becomes more competitive the traditional entitlement based sinecure opportunities in the public sector
    decrease every party seems to be looking outside its traditional base.

    The Pioneer

    Navin Upadhyay/ New Delhi

    Sixteen years is a long time, even in politics. Unlike the political turmoil witnessed during Mandal I, the proposed move to extend OBC quota in educational institutions has not triggered the sort of street battles, self-immolation, and political movement that virtually brought India to the brink of civil war in the early 1990s.

    The changed political situation and the compulsions of the OBC and Dalit leaders to keep the upper castes on their side, has ensured that Mandal II does not revive the intense social tension the nation witnessed when VP Singh first released the genie of caste politics. The cautious response of the so-called Mandal messiahs and the equally tepid resistance by the upper caste leaders, have taken the sting out of the issue, depriving the Congress of an agenda that people like HRD Minister Arjun Singh thought would further the politics of divide-and-rule.

    Imagine someone like RJD chief Lalu Prasad, who ruled Bihar for 15 years by mobilising the OBCs against the upper castes, maintaining a stoic silence on the proposed implementation of Mandal II. Sources said that when some RJD leaders reportedly urged Mr Yadav to break his silence on Mr Arjun Singh's move, he merely reacted by asking them to issue individual statements. But so far he himself has stirred clear of the controversy.

    Sources said that after being routed in the Bihar Assembly polls, Lalu Prasad wants to mend fences with the upper castes. "We had supported the constitutional amendment in Parliament and ensured that OBC quota was introduced in educational institutions. What is the point of harping on this issue? Our stand is clear," said a senior RJD leader.

    If Lalu Prasad is silent, then Dalit leaders like Ramvilas Paswan and Mayawati too have been cautious in their reactions. Both of them have welcomed the move, but with riders attached. They want seats in general category to be increased in premier educational institutions so that merit is not compromised.

    On apprehensions that the quota would lead to the closure of doors for the meritorious students, Mr Paswan said: "The academic institutions should increase the intake. They should work out a long term strategy for capacity building."

    Much has changed since Mandal I arrived on the Indian political scene and bestowed political powers to numerous regional satraps. It was a product of the social churning that united the Dalits and the OBCs in a perfect bond. In 16 years, that unity stands fragmented. Today, the Dalit leaders are engaged in a bitter power struggle with the OBCs, which is reflected in the bitter rivalry between Ms Mayawati and Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav on the one hand and Mr Paswan and Mr Lalu Prasad on the other.

    Similarly, OBC unity has suffered a major dent. The have-nots among the OBCs are trying to unseat the creamy layers. The unseating of Lalu Prasad by Kurmi leader Nitish Kumar in Bihar is a case in point.

    Mr Paswan underscored this point succinctly during his Press conference last week. "In admission under the quotas, preference should be given to the students belonging to the non-creamy layer sections among OBCs," he said.

    Ms Mayawati went a step further and accused the Congress of attempting to politicise the issue, and demanded an increase in the number of seats under general category. Though she supported the OBC quota, she made a clear overture to the upper castes in view of the Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh next year. "This should be done to avoid social confrontation," she said.

    Coming from a leader, who thrived on instigating social tension and using abusive languages against the upper castes, her conciliatory tone is part of a realisation that the OBC and Dalit leaders are increasingly coming to terms with. With the division in the social justice movement, today they need the upper caste backing to stay or capture power.

    Similarly, the CPI (M) has also asked the Government to increase the seats in institutions of higher education to strike a balance between merit and social justice.

    "In education, there is a golden triangle of quantity, quality and equity. You just can't ignore one while strengthening the others," CPI (M) leader Sitaram Yechury told reporters here.

    Saying the proposal to reserve seats for OBCs in Central educational institutions enjoyed Parliament's sanction, Mr Yechury said, "The question in fact is not 'why' but 'how' to implement the law." But he added, the Government would be required to build more infrastructures in order to cater to the demands for quality education.

    The NCP echoed this. Party spokesman DP Tripathi said he too supported the proposals provided they do not compromise merit. "We always support social justice. But there should be a balance between merit and social justice," he said.

  3. Anonymous said...

    Old story but still interesting.

  4. Abi said...

    Aswin: Since you raise the point again, let me state that the reference to 'a lot to go around' is specifically to engineering colleges in TN. Clearly, in medicine, there is a huge scarcity. Sorry for not making it clear in my previous post.

    Shiva: Thanks for the Pioneer article. Interesting take on the politics of Mandal II.

  5. Anonymous said...


    Good factual post :)
    Read my view on


  6. Anonymous said...

    More from The Pioneer, this time from Sunanda K Datta-Ray who usually writes for The Telegraph.

    Destroying India's excellence

    Sunanda K Datta-Ray

    Arjun Singh tried to pull a fast one on the country. No, I don't mean his spat with the Election Commission. Though that is a part of it, what matters more are the long-term implications of his claim of Constitutional sanction for, and Cabinet approval of, positive discrimination in favour of the so-called other backward classes.

    The favoured recipe holds no hope of achieving the Prime Minister's ideal of blending excellence with equity. On the contrary, recklessly increased reservation will only destroy the excellence that India has achieved so far without achieving the stated goal of equity.

    For equity with excellence India needs to implement the Constitutional provision for free, compulsory and universal education. It should also attend to the neglected Constitutional provision for a Backward Classes Commission, interpreting backward in pragmatic, not politically loaded sectarian, terms. Otherwise, we will be faced with more tragedies like Rajiv Goswami's protest self-immolation, more countrywide turmoil and a further deterioration of educational and professional standards.

    The point is that in spite of all the drama ever since VP Singh's cynical gamesmanship with caste, there is no such Constitutional entity as the OBCs. All that the 104th Amendment, on which the Human Resource Development Minister relies so heavily, allows is "any special provision by law, for the advancement of any socially and educationally backward classes of citizens."

    These may be the Scheduled Castes or Scheduled Tribes. They may be Muslims, specifically mentioned by the Mandal Commission. They could be a traditionally highly cultured community like Bihar's Maithili speakers who have been best known in recent decades as cooks in Bengali households.

    They might even be Brahmins for let it not be forgotten, a group of impoverished south Indian Brahmins did petition the Mandal Commission to be included in the list of those who merit special attention. Indeed, CN Annadurai once spoke of Brahmins and Jews as being the world's two homeless groups.

    Yet, thanks to political expedience, official connivance and astute propaganda by populist leaders like Mulayam Singh Yadav, Lalu Prasad Yadav, Om Prakash Chautala, Ajit Singh, Nitish Kumar and others, the OBC label is thought to belong exclusively to these supposedly underprivileged people who reflect a social paradox. If they are backward, it is only in the strictly hierarchical sense of the Hindu caste system.

    On the whole, the economic status of groups like the Yadavs or Jats is far from backward by the standards of rural India. But the dissonance between caste status and economic position worries them, and they hope to bridge the gulf through further benefits and privileges that will give them additional social and political clout.

    There is no point in dismissing the strategy as cynical. Each group will try to better its lot as best it can in our catch as catch can society. But it is criminal of any Government to condone their tactics for short-term gain. This is where Arjun Singh is to be faulted and censured. It may well be that he made his announcement - which he maintains did not amount to an announcement - in an innocuous answer to an even more innocuous media question at a press conference.

    But his answer implied that the Constitution sanctions 27 per cent reservation in seats of higher learning for the OBCs. His answer also implied that the Union Cabinet had already discussed and decided the issue. As if all this suppressio veri, suggestio falsi were not bad enough, the timing of his answer - even if he could not help it - was expected to make some impact on the voting pattern.

    Even this opportunism could have been brushed aside as predictable pre-election politics if the thinking behind the announcement had not exposed how little our rulers have the country's true long-term interest at heart. If Arjun Singh had at all cared to examine the background, he would have known that reservation has been counter-productive and that the annual reports of the Commissioners of Scheduled Castes and Tribes have repeatedly warned that they are creating a vested interest in backwardness.

    Dalits and Adivasis still do not account for more than 16 per cent of the students in institutions of higher education. Of 2.31 crore students from the two groups who start out going to school, not more than 12 lakh reach college or university level.

    Expanding the quota or increasing the total number of seats, as recommended by President APJ Abdul Kalam, will not

    solve the problem of the unfilled existing quota. Nor will extending reservation to the private sector have any economic impact, for the private sector absorbs only three per cent of the work force.

    Any sociologist would have asked why the dropout rate should be so high among the underprivileged. It is the same with Blacks in the United States. The people most in need of education are often least able to afford it. They do not live in an atmosphere that is conducive to learning, they cannot afford the ancillaries of going to school or college, and they need to spend their time gainfully earning money. Also, of course, and this is vital, the only kind of school to which they have access is a positive discouragement to learning.

    This is where the focus of reform should lie. China may not collect as many Nobel Prizes as we do but has many more good schools per thousand of population than India. China concentrates on primary and secondary education, reserving tertiary education only for the relatively few who can benefit most from it. IITs, IIMs and the AIIMS are not for everybody. They would not enjoy their present high reputation if they were. We will achieve nothing by dragging them down to the level of society's lowest common denominator.

    On the other hand, we can look forward to a social revolution by expanding good schools with dedicated teachers and all modern educational facilities in every village, and forget about the caste or religion of the boys and girls who attend them. Therein lies the secret of China's high growth.

    We are told that OBCs account for 52 per cent of the population. The Kaka Kalelkar Commission counted 2,399 tribes in 1953. BP Mandal raised the number to 3,743 in 1980. Someone else today might add to the number, depending on his own perception and the lobbying to which he is subjected. None of these figures can be taken as absolute, reliable or final. They are all part of the calculation of vote-banks.

    What is immutable is India's poverty, that 30 per cent of the people, irrespective of caste, languish below the povery line. Any welfare measures that the UPA Government undertakes should address the plight of these dispossessed as a whole. Taking a sectarian view of poverty is only a cynical means of perpetuating it while pretending otherwise.

  7. Anonymous said...

    I challenge the concerned jokers to go ahead with 50% Reservation for not only students but also for teaching staff. Its better that Government builds one more IIT and IIM and call them RIIT and RIIM (R stands for you know what) and let others live in peace and maintain their standards. RIIT and RIIM may be put under AICTE for added glory. It will be wiser for the government to offer the best of education from primary education and make them face the world rather than give them feel of artificial security by reservation.

    Naam Arjun Raknewala sab Yudh nahi jeeet saktein
    aur IIT IIM koi Kurushetra bi nahi hein
    Na is Arjun ke paas koi Krishn bhi hai
    Paritranaya sadhunam vinasaya Sathuskratham
    Dharma samsdha banarthaya sambavami yuge yuge
    Tora Tora Tora

  8. Anonymous said...

    IITs and IIMs will remain Institutions of the government by the government and for the government. One day MHRD may passa resolution stating that each MP is entitled for an IIT or IIM seat as the MPs are serving the nation. On the contrary take the case of BITS Pilani. In the year 2000, BITS Pilani put up a campus at DUBAI. In the year 2004, BITS Pilani commissioned a campus at Goa. In the year 2007 BITS Pilani is spearheading a campus at Hyderabad. Name one IITor IIM which broke the governmental shell and did something like BITS Pilani could do. Every one knows the famous IIM and IIT wanting to set up a Sing apore Campus. Well the song was over long back. We are left only with the National Anthem.

  9. Anonymous said...

    We must investigate the term "merit".Is "merit" just a score in entrance exams at age of 17?

    Take the claim of "merit based" entrance to all IIMs and dozens of other institutes.

    The CAT exam is based on the SAT exam in the USA . It has been proved beyond doubt that the SAT test is culturally biased . Blacks and hispanics do poorly at it year after year .

    If a student who is eligible for admission to IIM on the basis of his CAT score, were to take the same CAT exam in which he/she cleared in a language that he/she did not understand then he/she would be at a disadvantage compared to someone who was schooled in that language . Not knowing that language does not mean you lack the capacity to clear that exam.

    Approximately 25 % of CAT test is about English! Another 25 % is about English Comprehension!!!! There you are !!!! About 50 % so called aptitude test is a hoax for someone who is from a non-english speaking background .

    This is how the CAT like the SAT is discriminatory .

    See the full form of SAT …Scholastic Aptitude Test . The problem is aptitude testing is not so simple . There is no test on earth which can reliably tests aptitude .

    Aptitude tests such as the SAT have a historical tie to the concept of innate mental abilities and the belief that such abilities can be defined and meaningfully measured. Neither notion has been supported by modern research. Few scientists who have considered these matters seriously would argue that aptitude tests such as the SAT provide a true measure of intellectual abilities.

    It was found that people could be coached to better their scores at SAT . The name SAT …Scholastic Aptitude Test could not be correct . So under such valid criticism the name was changed to Scholastic Assessment Test, since a test that can be coached clearly did not measure inherent "scholastic aptitude", but was influenced largely by what the test subject had learned in school. Even the College Board which conducts the SAT has beaten a hasty retreat.This was a major theoretical retreat by the College Board conducting SAT, which had previously maintained that the test measured inherent aptitude and was free of bias.

    About ten years back , however, even the redundancy of the term assessment test was recognized and the name was changed to the neutral, and non-descriptive, SAT. At the time, the College Board announced, "Please note that SAT is not an initialism. It does not stand for anything."

    The framers of these SAT tests assumed that intelligence was a unitary inherited attribute, that it was not subject to change over a lifetime, and that it could be measured and individuals could be ranked and assigned their place in society accordingly. The SAT evolved from these questionable assumptions about human talent and potential.

    More and more people are questioning the validity of SAT . In the past MENSA used to accept high SAT score individuals . For the past decade it has stopped accepting SAT scores .

    The whole exercise of deciding merit based on CAT scores discriminates against those from lower socio-economic status.

    Though many non-IIM institutes have started accepting CAT scores, the application fee of these institutes is still inexplicably high.

    The CAT is primarily an exam of Math and English. Logical and Analytical Reasoning is nearly absent (except for some verbal reasoning which again depends on knowing English well!!!!).

    CAT is a clever way to keep those from lower socio-economic strata away Institutes funded with tax payers money .

    So claims of “Merit” based on CAT scores is hollow and discriminatory against those of lower socio-economic strata.

    Dhirubhai Ambani had a poor command over English . He would not have made it through CAT. So what "merit" are we talking of?

  10. Anonymous said...

    Then why only the brahmins are allowed to perform pooja for gods. Isn't that a reservation.

  11. Anonymous said...

    The reservation started in TN 60 years back by D.K,a dravidan party which wants tamilnadu seperate.
    Our shrewed politicians in TN has taken this toll of reservation for their own survival, and divide and rule policy to get political milage.Hence DMK has started anti hindi agitation in 1967,to drive north indians and tamil brahamins out from state.since both are white colored people, basically tamils dravidan tamils and not bramins are black,this color complexion makes the difference since basically tamils are sexually wak espeially with women foke.
    Like that it starts
    now all BC,MBC ARE EDUCATIONALLY ANS SOCIALLY RICH why do they want reservation.It is a really shame to ask reservation.
    This cultivates castisam, this happens in TN.Now PMK, A CSTE BASED VANNIYAR PARTY occupies big position now, all castes have started one, one party in TN and their toll is reservation.
    The way that they asking is more then 110% reservation.
    reservations indulges into caste politics, since every one says that he wants to safeguard their castes.This ridiculous is going on TN.
    The real outcome is all BC,MBC has become rich they want to safeguard reservation by starting aste based political party.
    Hence i appeal to court not to extend the reservation upto 50% and put the income ceiling in BC,MBC for educated BC,MBC.