We live in a democratic nation, our constitution provides us with the right to freedom along with the ability to use this freedom in a fair manner. Simultaneously, it’s important on the part of the state to ensure that equality is prevalent across the various sections of the society.
This, however, in today’s scenario the right to equality is faced with a major hurdle in form of The Reservation System.
The system of reservation in India seeks to elevate the weaker section of the society, who through time have been deprived of their rights and have been exploited. The reservation has been provided to these minorities by the government in government jobs and colleges, to help them ascertain the stature of the mainstream society and gain the acceptance of the same. But the current events and existing political scenario have raised a huge uncertainty in the prevailing reservation system India. The questions that have been raised are, whether the current grounds of reservation have become obsolete and shallow? Does the prevalent reservation system uphold equality of rights of citizens on the parameters of their ancestry?
Historical development of reservation
The system of reservation tracks its roots back to the 2nd century B.C where some privileges were exercised by the upper class of the society. Some of the texts the Gupta period provide suggests that Brahmins enjoyed a set of facilities that the other castes were not allowed to.
A reservation system that puts down castes as the grounds for bifurcation was thought of by William Hunter and Jyotirao Phule in 1882. A version of this system was implemented by Chhatrapati Shahuji in the year 1901. However, the system of reservation that prevails in the current scenario in its true essence, was instituted in 1933 when the British Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald was presented the “Communal Award”. This introduced provisions for separate groups like Muslim, Sikhs, Indian Christians, Anglo-Indians, Europeans and Dalits.
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This system was opposed by Mahatma Gandhi by not attending the second Round Table Conference and he went on fast in protest. But various minorities and leaders including B.R Ambedkar supported it. What followed was a long negotiation, after which Gandhi and Ambedkar signed the “Poona Pact”. This pact ascertained that there shall be a single Hindu electorate with definite reservation in it. Whereas the electorates of the additional communities such as Muslims and Sikhs persisted separately. Following India’s Independence, some severe favourable changes occurred in the favour of the SCs, STs, and OBCs. The change that carried the most weight was the establishment of the Mandal Commission which took place in the year 1979 to bring in light the socially and educationally backward sections of the society. It wasn’t till the 1990s that the recommendations provided by the Mandal Commission got implemented on the jobs of the government sector.
Legal Aspects of reservation
The provisions that are laid down by the constitution of India on the basis of which the orders related to reservation in services for SCs, STs and OBCs are taken have been regulated by Ministries of Social Justice and the Department of personnel and development.
The provisions for reservation have been provided under articles 16, 335, 338, 340, 341 and 342 of the Constitution. These articles provide for reservation, protection, and employment to the backward class of society.
Article 16 provides ‘the state’ the ability to make provisions regarding reservation for appointment or posts giving support to SCs, STs, and OBCs. Although, Department of Personnel and training, Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pension, Government of India through the issue of orders from time to time govern and regulate the meaning and applicability of reservation in appointment or posts. The method of recruitment determines the applicability of reservation. It dictates the percentage of reservation along with the procedure through which reservation will be applied.
Article 335, talks of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes claim on service and posts of the affairs concerned with The Union and State. The article states “Provided that nothing in this article shall prevent in making of any provision in favour of the members of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes for relaxation in qualifying marks in any examination or lowering the standards of evaluation, for reservation in matters of promotion to any class or classes of services or posts in connection with the affairs of the Union or of a State”.
Reasons why the current reservation system needs to be amended
The system of reservation that prevails in the current scenario provides roughly 15% reservation for Scheduled Castes (SCs), 8% reservation for the Scheduled Tribes(STs), and 27% for Other Backward Classes(OBCs). That amounts to a total of 50% reserved seats. The seats that are left for the general category may also be occupied by the reserved class. This coupled with the carry over rule asserting that the seats remained unoccupied in the previous tenure shall get carried forward and shall replace the unreserved seats with reserved seats. This results in an increase of reserved seats beyond 50%.
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Reservation in addition to being a form of ethnic discrimination falls directly against meritocracy. As reservation provides for eased entry criteria that fuels the inflation of moderate candidates as opposed to the candidates that are meritorially superior. This weakens the effectiveness of the labour force of the country by not providing deserving and competent candidates the seats they deserve. Caste-based reservation system not only preserves but promotes society’s notion of caste. Economically weak people from ”forward caste” face the difficulties hailed upon them by the reservation system whereas economically strong people from “backward caste” enjoy the privileges. Reservation also causes brain drain which leads to highly prospective candidates leaving to other countries for higher education and job opportunities.
Reservation has turned into a prospective tool which is used by the politicians to churn out votes. Also, the grounds for reservation in today’s scenario have been rendered irrelevant. The basis for reservation should be shifted to economic status. It is beyond any doubt that the present reservation system requires serious amendments.
The Modi government recently took a historic step in this regard that affirms the government’s efforts in refurbishing the situation. This comes in the form of 10% reservation to all communities where the criterion for eligibility is ‘economic backwardness’ instead of ‘caste’. This shifts the stage of reservation to more reasonable grounds. Furthermore, the supreme court mandated that this reservation quota is for the communities that do not fall under the 50 percent quota i.e the 10 percent reservation is meant for the members of the upper castes. Thus the quota will be availed by the individuals who belong the Hindu, Muslim and Christian communities. This will help in the upliftment of the section of the upper caste which was a victim to the previously prevailing system of reservation. This indicates that the current government recognises the flaws that are prevalent in the reservation system.
From all of this it is evident that the reservation system is undergoing a change and in the near times would play a crucial role in the future of reservation.
– Shivesh Shrivastava is a budding lawyer at Law College Dehradun, and an active member at Legal Drafting Team.