Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The ball is in the Supreme Court

Now that the Supreme Court has got into the act, some sanity will be restored. The political class can take a breather, the medicos can get back to work, and we can look forward to the Court posing some serious questions, demanding a dispassionate study and analysis based on hard data.

My guess is that the Supreme Court's intervention is a positive only for those in the middle; it's unlikely lead to conclusions that either side -- with its own extreme positions -- can claim as a clear victory. In particular, the anti-reservation lobby, that has been citing the recent NSSO data on the OBC share in the population are not going to be happy (a) when the Supreme Court also asks for the caste break-up in our elite institutions, and (b) if a new, larger, more extensive study ends up showing that the OBC population is actually larger than the NSSO figures. On the other hand, the government is unlikely to be fully vindicated when, for example, its classification of OBCs is found to be faulty, because its OBC list is padded up with some castes that just don't belong there.

I don't know if the Supreme Court can initiate, on its own accord, fresh and detailed studies -- by a Committee of accomplished social scientists -- on the social, educational and economic status of different castes. I hope it can also demand a serious study of different ways of pursuing affirmative action, and suggest to the political class some of the better ways.

Unfortunately, all of this implies that the Supreme Court is being asked to get into the nitty-gritty of policy making. However, when our politicians -- legislators, in particular -- shy away from tough questions, we should take some solace in the fact that we can turn to some other constitutional authority that can afford to take a cold, hard look at the reservation issue. The SC intervention also implies that those taking extreme positions cannot use the 'urgency of the situation' to keep peddling their stereotyped, cartoonish views. That can only be a good thing!

Finally, do take a look at this Hindu editorial. This extract is quite illuminating:

That the medicos are refusing to see reason suggests their concerns lie elsewhere. Traditionally, the Indian Medical Association, a national body of doctors, has been opposed to any increase in the number of medical college seats. Although the negative position is couched in terms of opposition to a dilution of standards and privatisation of medical education, the self-serving, protectionist streak is unmistakable. The greater the number of doctors, the more competitive medical practice gets.


  1. Anonymous said...

    In fact, the concerns of the medicos can be extended to other institutions as well. Aside from the faculty shortage(which of course never got the attention it deserved) at IITs, a huge influx means tremendous competition, with(horror of horrors) ""people who don't deserve to compete""!!!
    The above is the typical response I gauged from many discussions.

  2. Anonymous said...

    The political class can take a breather

    How ? They now have eight weeks of scrambling to do to prepare an affidavit. You may be right because it is some hapless bureaucrat in the HRD ministry who has to burn the midnight oil trying to manufacture something out of nothing. The political class are all abroad on foreign tours.

    I would not worry about those holding extreme positions, the agitating class is firmly in the middle position. If they give away their seats, they just want to be presented with facts about those who are taking it from them.

    The struggle however has just started, the political class will strive to restrict the scope of study or even present a hurriedly conducted survey. Those again will have to be legally challenged in SC.

    Only a survey of individual OBC components (castes) will be valid, because no one is questioning the *existance* of a group that is backward but not SC/ST (in other words miscellaneous or "other"). The bone of contention is how does a OBC caste become a member of this group. Just the presence of a handful of dominant groups is like setting a bunch of cats in a pigeon cage, the benefits are rapidly cornered by the dominant few.

    Now is the time to ask for an evaluation of each OBC component to see if they still fit the conditions stipulated by the mandal commission. We must ask for the revival of the NCBC (which is currently defunct it seems, with no chairman and two members missing in action).

    Refer to Page 21 of the "Information Handbook released by the NCBC under the RIght to Information Act 2005". It is available online.http://ncbc.nic.in/ccdisabilities-annexure.pdf (PDF FILE 65 pages)

    We however cannot use the RTI act to get more data because there isnt any. (While applying you have to specify exactly what report(s) you need access to)

    The government however does not have bonafide intentions in this case. As a result you will continue to see various lawsuits and frequent involvement by the Supreme Court. Tragic indeed! but nothing new to India.

    Even more tragic is a poor country like India is now about to embark on a "sugar coating" exercise in higher education that is going to cost upwards of 16,000 crores (I got this figure from a TV program when someone asked Mr Moily a related question). Of this 8000 crores is immediate and the rest over the next two years.

    This sugar coating exercise is totally ad-hoc and not based on data. No study has concluded that the need of the hour is to expand immediately the capacity of IIMs/IITs/AIIMS by 54% forthwith.

    One ministers personal ambition has resulted in such a massive spend on higher education whose very need is dubious at best. This demonstrates we do not have enough checks and balances in place. Arjun Singh hastily says something in the middle of elections in 5 states and the country has to pay 16K crores on a program that is not of highest importance !

    In the meantime, schools in every village across the country are neglected and the focus is now off them and firmly shifted to airconditioned labs in IIMs.

    Tragic, and will be covered in my blog very soon.

  3. Anonymous said...

    I am confused abt the extent to which the supreme court can intervene. after all, this constitutional amendment was brought in after that inamdar judgement. And it looks like the SC has been sitting over a similar case(TN) for more than a decade. (ref: first comment in this post)

  4. Anonymous said...

    This might be tangential, at best, to what you have written of...

    There is an obvious (?) and seemingly ever-increasing aspirational value attached to careers founded on a basis of an education from the IIsT / IISc, IIsM and sundry medical colleges. It is, ( to borrow a phrase from above ) tragic, that most of the 'debate' ( or has it been an exchange of rhetoric / powerplay ) has focussed on the supposed 'de-merits' of reservations at these institutes. ( I have not yet come across much of anything about the detrimental consequences of the proposed reservations for other programmes of education / vocation (?) - the voices are not so shrill in this case ). I presume you are savvy to what I am trying to indicate...

    Acknowledging the possibility that it is not love of 'education' as such that propels such interests to take the stands that they have taken and considering the point that RC makes - in the meantime, schools in every village across the country are neglected and the focus is now off them and firmly shifted to airconditioned labs in IIMs, it might be safe to presume that the entire focus is shifted onto the preservation of the interests of whosoever has the upper hand as far as 'representation' ( hold ? ) at these programmes of study are concerned.

    I, too, wonder if the Supreme Court would ask for a class-wise / caste-wise breakdown of the student rolls at these institutes and what that might reflect.

    On a loose note, I would say that reservations might just be a good thing, if they manage to serve adequately as aspirational yardsticks for those who do not have any meaningful representation - like if more and more people realise that they have some guarantee in getting there ( with competition amongst themselves - if not with the 'meritorious' general category ) and therefore they start demanding more in terms of the basics ( like the rural / primary education infrastructure issue that has now been relegated to the back-burner ) as time goes by.

    I am no student of economics but this might just work ( regardless of how lop-sided it might feel ) - you start with the high-end of the business and work your way backwards to the roots.

    The politicians might just manage to swing it that way - after all, they are also 'professionals' like you and me.

  5. Anonymous said...

    Dr.Radhakrishnan of MIDS is quoted in this article that discusses the TN experience.

    The Rediff Special/ Shobha Warrier in Chennai

    'Education is the means of social mobility'

    May 30, 2006

    In 1990 and 1991, when the fire started by the Mandal Committee report engulfed northern India, the southern states were strangely silent.

    Today, when Human Resource Development Minister Arjun Singh's Mandal II is seeing passionate protests in many parts of the country, Tamil Nadu is once again silent.

    Why? Because about 80 per cent of the state's population is already under the reservation umbrella.

    In 1980, much before the V P Singh government's Mandal move, the Tamil Nadu government had implemented 69 per cent reservation for backward classes in educational institutions and jobs.

    A brief history of quotas in Tamil Nadu

    P Radhakrishnan, professor of sociology, Madras Institute of Development Studies, says it was the non-Brahmin movement in Madras Presidency (as the province was called during British rule) during the 1910s and 1920s -- and the movement launched by the Backward Classes from the 1930s to the 1950s -- that gave a new caste idiom to South Indian politics and the policies about the Backward Classes, or BCs.

    "It was mainly against the background and knowledge of these movements, and pressures for reservation for the backward classes that the Constituent Assembly adopted Article 10(4) (now Article 16 (4)) providing for job reservation," says Professor Radhakrishnan.

    In 1969, the Dravida Munnetra Kazagham government under M Karunanidhi appointed the first Tamil Nadu State Backward Classes Commission with A N Sattanathan as the chairman. The Commission found that the Most Backward Classes -- or MBCs -- in Tamil Nadu had a very small presence in state services and professional colleges as they were clubbed together with other castes.

    Exclusive: Sam Pitroda slams quota system

    From 1951 onwards, reservation for the Backward Classes was 25 per cent but the Sattanathan Commission recommended a separate educational and employment reservation of 16 per cent for the Most Backward Classes and 17 per cent for the Backward Classes.

    In 1971, the DMK government hiked the reservation for the Backward Classes from 25 per cent to 31 per cent and for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes from 16 per cent to 18 per cent.

    In 1980, MGR's All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazagham government increased the reservation for the Backward Classes from 31 per cent to 50 per cent.

    From then on, there has been 69 per cent reservation in educational institutions.

    The second Tamil Nadu State Backward Classes Commission came into existence on March 15, 1993, at the Supreme Court's instance. It was formed to examine and recommend upon the requests relating to inclusion and exclusion from the list of Backward Classes and Most Backward Classes.

    The Commission conducts enquiries on the representations received from various community organisations and individuals for inclusion of their communities in the list of Backward Classes.

    The Commission looks into three factors while identifying a caste group as backward -- social backwardness, economic backwardness and educational backwardness. The weightage allotted is 50 per cent for social backwardness, 40 per cent for educational backwardness and 10 per cent for economic backwardness.

    'Let us have quota, but let not caste be the criteria'

    The report card

    In the Common Entrance Test conducted by Anna University for admission to engineering and medical studies, the cut-off marks for general students and OBC students are almost the same.

    Does that mean reservation has started achieving its purpose?

    "Yes," says Professor P S Balasubramanian, former head of the Department of Education, Madras University. "It is only because of the reservation policy followed by the state for the last several years that the OBCs have reached this level. There is no second opinion about it. Education is the means of social mobility, and reservation has helped those in the deprived sections of society to have vertical mobility in the social strata," he adds.

    Professor Radhakrishnan disagrees. He says there is no connection between reservation and admissions, particularly in the context of Tamil Nadu, because almost every group is included in the 69 per cent category, except a few upper castes.

    'No need for quota at post-grad level'

    "At least 80 per cent of the population is included in the reservation net. If you look at the data of the last five years, you will see that it is only the creamy layer of the Other Backward Classes that gets all the benefits," says Professor Radhakrishnan.

    "If you look at the employment data, the MBCs, the SCs and the STs have not benefited. The real needy will benefit only when we remove the creamy layer. For the last 56 years, reservation has not reached the needy, and there is data to show that," he insists.

    At least 35 per cent of India's population the age group between 20 and 25 aspires for higher education, but the present enrolment in higher education -- beyond the higher secondary level -- is only 9 per cent to11 per cent, as against 45 per cent to 85 per cent in developed countries.

    A peak into the Other India'

    D Sundaram, retired professor of sociology, Madras University, who was also a member of the second Tamil Nadu State Backward Classes Commission from 1993 to 2001, looks at 69 per cent reservation as a necessity. He admits that in Tamil Nadu, more than 200 caste groups -- 246, to be precise -- are considered backward.

    Recently two Brahmin communities have urged the Commission that they be included in the Backward Classes list, but the Commission has not obliged.

    "Eligibility to backwardness is not based on economic and educational backwardness alone. It is not a poverty alleviation program. So, a community that is socially forward will not be included," says Professor Sundaram.

    'Middle class only bothers about itself'

    Digging into the creamy layer

    The report of the Sattanathan Commission submitted in 1970 said, 'some castes have taken full advantage of the state's protective measures and made rapid strides, while many others continue to trail behind and are still in the lower stages of stagnancy.'

    Therefore, the Commission recommended the removal of the 'creamy layer' from the list of beneficiaries -- exclusion of those families of salaried persons whose annual income exceeded Rs 9,000, landowners with more than 10 acres of land and business people with taxable income exceeding Rs 9,000.

    The then DMK government did not attempt to eliminate the creamy layer, says Professor Radhakrishnan. Nor did it offer separate reservation for Most Backward Classes.

    The AIADMK ministry headed by M G Ramachandran issued a Government Order in July 1979 prescribing an annual income lower than Rs 9,000 for Backward Classes as eligibility to get the benefits of reservation.

    When his party was defeated in the 1980 Lok Sabha election, MGR not only withdrew the order but increased the reservation for the BCs from 31 per cent to 50 per cent.

    Analysis: Did Arjun Singh's gamble backfire?

    When the total reservation exceeded 50 per cent, the Supreme Court on October 15, 1982, directed the state government to constitute the second Tamil Nadu Backward Classes Commission.

    Under the chairmanship of J A Ambasankar, it started reviewing the existing list of Backward Classes in the reservation bracket. The Commission also found that of the total number of Backward Classes students admitted to professional courses, more than three fourths were from a small number of Backward Classes -- 34 out of 222 then -- accounting for only about two fifths of the Backward Classes population in the state.

    Professor Sundaram says the second Tamil Nadu Backward Classes Commission had identified who form the creamy layer in each caste group, and had recommended that they be removed from the list of beneficiaries.

    "You just cannot remove the entire caste group from the list; only individuals can be deleted but the state has its own methodology in implementation. If a person has availed the benefits, his son or daughter cannot be excluded from the list. It will take at least three generations for the family to come up," he says.

    The Commission recommended that economics and occupation should be identified as two criteria with which the creamy layer can be identified.

    "It is not the Commission that is lagging behind in making recommendations; the state government is also not lagging behind in accepting the recommendations on the creamy layer concept. There are some problems in implementation because it has to be decided at the individual level," says Professor Sundaram.

    "There has to be a proper methodology to ascertain that. Creamy layer is based on the principle of lower eligibility. Those who have availed the provisions should opt out. No community is against removing benefits for the creamy layer. Unless a layer moves out, the rest cannot avail the opportunities," he adds.

    Professor Radhakrishnan observes that no state has so far implemented the SC directive to remove the creamy layer from the OBCs.

    But Professor Balasubramanian is of the opinion that in 10 or 15 years, nobody can come to a conclusion that a family has benefited from reservation.

    "It needs a longer period. For generations they were deprived and only now they are coming up. It will take generations for them to get the full benefits of reservation," he says.

    The way out

    The big question is how to ensure the benefits of reservation reach the real needy.

    Like the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation has been advocating from 1946, Professor Radhakrishnan also sees universal education at the primary level -- by giving scholarships, etc -- as the only solution.

    "I have sat on a number of interview boards. Students are motivated but the problem is language, particularly for students coming from villages. The medium of education is important in this globalised world as higher education is in English. We have to address the basics first," he says.

    Professor Sundaram feels the only solution to the problem is to increase in the number of educational institutions and seats.

    "We have to take into consideration that our population has increased tremendously. If a person in the open category and (a person in the)reserved category get 98 per cent, it shows given an opportunity, even those from the Backward Classes can come up. But his reservation shouldn't be at the cost of somebody else who is also equally good," he insists.

    Professor Balasubramanian quotes Jayaprakash Narayan: "Like JP said, we should think of vocationalising education. By this, he meant, after providing basic education, recruit them in various professions and then absorb them. The responsibility of training them should be by those who appoint them because then, the training will be job-relevant and not job-oriented. Let this be done by industries also," he says.

    'What more do the upper castes want?'

    The high temples of learning

    Not all are in favour of increasing the number of seats in institutions like the Indian Institutes of technology.

    Professor Balasubramanian says IITs are not mere engineering colleges, but meant to be research-oriented institutions. "You can increase the seats in other institutions but as IITs are meant as research institutions, the idea of increasing the number of seats is not good. You need committed people for research," he points out.

    "All the students can, but all the students do not. Why are they not doing what they can? Because of lack of opportunities. We have to start at the primary level first," he insists.

    Post script

    Professor Radhakrishnan points out that Article 15 of the Constitution prohibits discrimination by the State by any means. Clause 4 to the Article was introduced in 1950 which empowers the State to provide special powers for the advancement of the socially and educationally backward classes.

    "There is no reference to educational reservation in the Constitution but there is a clear reference to job reservation. Nobody has challenged it in court so far but it can happen. Private institutions can challenge this in court," Professor Radhakrishnan says.

    "The Venkatachelliah Committee report on the review of the Constitution also talks about only job reservation in relation to Article 46," he adds.

  6. Anonymous said...

    The extremely-left leaning and almost-commie The Hindu is advocating for open market and competition in the medical field...now that's illuminating.

  7. Anonymous said...


    Two points.

    First, I am not sure the anti-reservation lobby is worried about fresh data. If they were, why would they demand an expert group? It is pretty obvious who is afraid of such a group.

    Second, Hindu had missed a big point. Competition? The government said that it will increase the seats from next year. Yout think it can do that? As an Academic, you think so? If you think medical students are afarid of more competition, then you are batting on the wrong wicket here. They are not convinced that seats can be increased in one year, and frankly no right thinking expert is.

    As Patrix pointed out, Hindu advocating free market is rich. It really is.

    For all this talk of respecting SC, the government will simply overcome any adverse SC judgement by means of a constitutional amendment.

  8. Anonymous said...


    Two points.

    First, I am not sure the anti-reservation lobby is worried about fresh data. If they were, why would they demand an expert group? It is pretty obvious who is afraid of such a group.

    Second, Hindu had missed a big point. Competition? The government said that it will increase the seats from next year. Yout think it can do that? As an Academic, you think so? If you think medical students are afarid of more competition, then you are batting on the wrong wicket here. They are not convinced that seats can be increased in one year, and frankly no right thinking expert is.

    As Patrix pointed out, Hindu advocating free market is rich. It really is.

    For all this talk of respecting SC, the government will simply overcome any adverse SC judgement by means of a constitutional amendment.

  9. Anonymous said...

    In addition to the 'vested interests' of AIIMS students and doctors I think there is another factor to look at. How some of these doctors look at their own profession. There is a tendency amongst the professors and elite doctors to talk about their profession as one of the esteemed professions which requires great skill, talent where low quality or substandard has no room, etc, etc. One can see this innate superiority talking or debating with these doctors.
    I see this with some of my family members who are doctors. They always tend to glorify their profession and keep saying that there is no room for error and so on. This indoctrination is also another reason why they tend to fight against any lowering of 'merit'.

    Just another angle to the story. I could be completely wrong :)

  10. Anonymous said...

    Some thoughts...

    What is the aim of the reservation policy in higher education?

    Using higher education to reduce caste inequities and towards social justice?
    Making higher education opportunities available to caste disadvantaged?
    What else? Use the tamilnadu experience to show what has been the aim, and what has been achieved, in terms of caste oppression and caste consciousness, with obc's killing harijans and so on, while fact may be there are many good doctors, engineeres, trachers, etc from obc's as well as possible harijans, disproving theory of merit, but what is the aim and what has been achieved.

    Shudra is worker and peasant, one who toiled and toils with ones hands. Why the condition of being a toiler is not being put forth as the condition for reservation and special assistance in higher education. Why is the archaic Brahmanical order being used for this purpose? Is it to divide the toilers and tillers into the basis of castes, given that over the years, with the slow flourishing of capitalism, there are toilers and tillers, admittedly fewer, from the "upper castes" and more professions have joined the ranks of working class, like doctors, teachers, in which there are more fewer people from "lower castes". Is it to blunt class consciousness, and elevate caste consciousness?

    Should toil be looked down upon? If toil is not to be looked down upon, why no emphasis on improving the lot of toilers and tillers through good quality school education, ensuring security of livelihood, medical care, proganda and agitation in schools and communities against the medieval Brahmanical order which looks down upon toilers and tillers and women, and tribals.

    Universal Education in mother tongue - is that not a way forward or contribution to alleviating inequities? Investigate whether this fact in TN, karnataka, bengal and Kerala has not contributed as much to the higher number of professionals from other castes....

    Capitalism is flourishing. It is leading to great insecurity for mass of workers and peasants and middle strata, that is people from all castes. Opportunities are fewer and fewer for peasantry, for small businessmen, for workers, for the classical intellectual strata as well. Dog eat dog competiton at every place in life, with merit having no place in most places, and wealth, connections, deciding everything from government jobs to seats in the private enginereing medical colleges and in the "public schools". THis reality, is sort to be diverted from, and peoples anger and attention taken away, into fight over a smaller and smaller cakes share.

    The lower castes are told - capitalism is fine, but it is the Brahmins and banias who are blocking your progress.
    The Brahmins and banias are told - capitalism is fine, but the lower castes are blockig yur path.

    Why not all fight against capitalism, against Brahmanical caste system which is used against all, not just the shudras, but also against the Brahmins and Banias.

    Let us turn the ruling class's game against them.

    (1) let us demand and fight for a school education system, which does open propaganda against the caste system, and the oppression of women, and which is universal, so that children of all castes and classes are educated and sensitised against caste systrem and its evils

    (2) Let us demand piunishment of strictest order against any oppression and discrimination on the basis of caste and gender, whether it be entry into temples or clas rooms, or access to jobs.

    (3) Let us demand a universal good schooling system, which is taught in the mother tongue, so that the languages of people develips, and the sons and daughters of the toilers and tillers have a better opportunity to go for higher education. There should be no private schools, or classes of schools.

    (4) Let us demand state constitutionally guarantee and enforce security of livelihoof for peasants and workers so that the shudras of India can lead a life of dignity.

    (5) Let us demand that higher education, as also school education be state run, with society deciding how many engineers and doctors and professionals of which discipline are required, have that many seats and not this present shortage and rat race.

    (6) Let merit be the consideration for entry into higher education, and within this we demand that meritorious students from worker and peasant background should be given preference as well as state assistance.

    (7) Let us propose that like in the armed forces enginering and medical institutes those availing of state higher education will serve a specified period in work designated for the welfare of the broad masses of shudras of India, that is the workers and peasants.

    Prakash, Lok Raj Sangathan