(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
March 01, 2009
SC & ST (Reservation in Posts and Services) Act, 2008
The Slate Is Not Clean
R Arun Kumar
THE UPA government hastily passed a legislation to provide for reservations of appointments or posts in civil services for members of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in the Rajya Sabha amidst din in the house. This was stealthily packed among a host of other bills on the last day of the parliament and was pushed through to escape the screening of the members. It succeeded in its act in the Rajya Sabha. But for some vigilant members, who could see through the design of the government, the government would have enacted the same drama once again in the Lok Sabha and would have got the Act it had desired.
The cunningness of the government could be easily understood just by looking at the title of the Act that it intended to make. It was titled as ‘the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Reservation in Posts and Services) Act, 2008’. It was so deceptively named that nobody could understand the real intentions of the government, neatly camouflaged in this Act. Such is its mastery at deception, that in the statement of objects and reasons, it explains the purpose for moving this bill. 'Being sensitive to the need for providing adequate representation for the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes in civil services under the control of central government and to give statutory backing to the instructions in the matter, the government decided to enact a suitable legislation which will elevate the provisions of the reservation to a statutory right and also instil greater confidence amongst members of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes' (emphasis added). Beneath these sugar-coated words lies the bitter pill to kill the entry of SC, STs into the top level posts in the government.
In clause 4 (1), the government's real intention comes out nakedly. It states 'Notwithstanding anything contained in section 3, there shall be no reservation where appointments are made- (i) for a period of less than forty-five days; (iii) to posts higher than the lowest grade of Group A posts and classified as scientific or technical post; and (iv) to posts higher than the lowest grade of Group A posts in institutions of national importance and Indian Institutions of Management specified in the Schedule'. This Schedule contains an elaborate list of about 47 institutions, with the power to include and delete the institutions wresting with the central government. All the IITs, except the newly established ones, all the IIMs, AIIMS, NITs and select central universities are included in the Schedule now. Thus, with a sly of a hand the government hoped to do away with reservations to all top-level posts in all the 'elite' institutions. Such is its 'sensitivity' to the 'needs of providing adequate representation' and instilling 'greater confidence amongst the SC and STs!’
What made the government to push through such a bill in the Rajya Sabha and do a volte face in the Lok Sabha?
The bourgeoisie of our country, with their historical compromise with feudalism, always used caste to perpetuate their rule and hegemony in the country. Like the British during the colonial period, they too encourage a section among the downtrodden to move up the social hierarchy by enabling them to take up some bureaucratic and teaching posts. This controlled vertical movement is allowed only to serve their class interests and nothing more. Just as a section of the educated middle classes during the British period had contributed to the growth of nationalism in our country, so too a section among the downtrodden sections that has benefited from the reservations, challenge the hegemony of the ruling classes. Once again, just as the British had done to further restrict access of education to the Indian middle classes when they had sensed trouble, the present day ruling classes too do not want what they presume to be-a Frankenstein. Reservation, for them, is one way of controlled social engineering.
One of the arguments of the antagonists of reservation has always been that quality would be compromised through reservations. Sophisticated elements among these sections use this argument more than the cruder ones, who spill out the beans by brazenly arguing that they stand to lose because of reservations. These sophisticated 'crackerjacks' conveniently manipulate the facts at ground level to serve their interests and state that 'the nation stands to lose'. When you want reservations in education, they point to the deploring state of the school education and ask you to address this all important concern first. When you talk about reservation in jobs, they argue that professionals from these sections are absent due to the small number of graduates from these sections and suggest you to address this question first. The crux of all their arguments thus is simple, 'no reservations'. With their tried and time tested practice of rousing passions by spreading canards, they once again try to divide people on sectarian lines.
NEO LIBERAL POLICIES
NEGATE SOCIAL JUSTICE
These people can be distinguished by another important character. They are all, or most of them are 'liberalisation's babies'-ardent supporters of liberalisation. They are for privatisation in all fields and for a minimalist role of the state. This economic philosophy complements their social agenda. They do not want state to 'interfere' with 'reservations'. Just as market, merit is their messiah. This is another classic example of how class and caste intertwine in our society. It is to satiate these sections that the government had come up with this short-lived bill. No wonder it was moved by the PMO.
The UPA government that spoke so many words about social justice in its NCMP had done little to merit its claims of being the government for the 'aam aadmi'. It had promised to legislate for reservations in private sector. Under pressure from its class allies, it dillydallied all through its five years. Under pressure from the Left, student organisations and the mass of the people in the aftermath of the Supreme Court verdict in the Inamdar case, it had come out with a constitutional amendment and a bill providing for reservations for the OBCs in the central government educational institutions. To offstage this benefit for the OBCs, SC, STs, the government had now come up with this bill and satisfy its class interests.
The policy of reservations in our country is always used as a balancing act - not to alienate either the majority of the downtrodden sections vital to remain in power or the ruling classes whose interests should be serviced by the state. No central government was ever committed to use reservations for the real welfare of the downtrodden sections in our society and to promote social justice. CPI (M), that has argued many a times, is aware that reservations provide only partial or temporary solace to the parched souls. Even then, it firmly stood for the proper implementation of the reservation policy, demanding the implementation of land reforms along with it. Appealing for unity among the people, it had called upon them to join in the struggle for the creation of new opportunities for both education and employment.
The correct way to approach the issue is to simultaneously address the concerns of quality, quantity and equity. The shrinking role of the state had taken away along with it many jobs. The present economic crisis is leaving many people unemployed. These dwindling avenues for employment would cause lot of heart burn among the people and unless properly guided they would become easy prey for all sorts of sectarian ideologies.
People should be made aware that the government, smitten with the neo-liberal ideology is reluctant to fill in the hundreds of thousands of posts that are lying vacant. This is true even for some of the 'elite' institutions. According to the media reports, the IITs have reported a staff shortage of nearly 15-25 per cent. The same is the situation in AIIMS, NITs and many central universities. The government consciously let the situation deteriorate to such a deplorable extent in the name of fiscal prudence. Its recent efforts to fill the vacant posts are yet to yield the desired results.
In spite of the reservations, most of the SC, ST posts are lying vacant. According to UGC, 40 per cent of teaching posts in the reserved category are vacant. According to the human resources development ministry, only 6.7 per cent of teachers at India’s central universities are SCs, and a mere 3.5 per cent are STs. This is against the constitutionally mandated 15 per cent and 7.5 per cent reservation for the respective groups. The situation is even more startling at the higher levels. Only one per cent of the professors in the central universities are from SC and ST groups. Less than two per cent of readers at central universities are SCs, and STs fare no better. Instead of initiating measures to fill up these posts, the government now intends through the bill to restrict job quota to 'lowest grade of Group A post' – the Assistant Professor level.
The usual refrain from the government is that there are no 'qualified' personnel available. We should not forget that it is the duty of the government to train such 'qualified' personnel. But the government is trying to absolve its responsibility stating in clause 15 that 'the government shall, subject to the availability of finance and other resources develop and organise training programmes' for these sections. This, in itself, shows the reluctance of the government in ensuring social justice. It should be the priority of the government to train and develop the faculties of those sections that are at the bottom of the economic and social pyramid. Instead, the government subjects this to the availability of finances and other resources! This in practice means that both these two factors become scarce commodities that are rarely available.
The inherent caste bias among the administration in the implementation of policies and allocation of resources for the benefit of the SC, STs is exposed many a times. The report of the Committee to enquire into the allegation of differential treatment of SC/ST students in AIIMS has one full chapter allotted to deal with the discrimination in faculty appointments and promotions. Non adherence to the reservation policy, denial of weightage to past services, denial of research opportunities and discrimination in foreign assignments are some of the examples of the discrimination policy pursued in our premier medical institute in the capital of our country. There are many such instances where the government failed in its commitment towards social justice.
Afraid that this bill would become the proverbial last straw on its piled up burden of sins against social justice the government backtracked in this instance. The fast approaching elections to the parliament are a vital factor that it cannot ignore. By withdrawing clause 4 from the bill it wants to face the electorate as the protagonist of social justice. Just by the withdrawal of these clauses it cannot wipe the slate clean and erase its intentions. None can expect equality and justice from a government with such intentions. The time has come to make them pay for their sins.