Would Cause Irreparable Damage if Implemented: Social Justice Expert PS Krishnan on 10% EWS Quota
The former secretary to the Government of India, PS Krishna explains how the 10% reservation contradicts what the Constitution founding fathers' had envisioned and how it would affect the SCs, STs and OBCs.
File photo of former secretary to the Government of India (Image: Youtube).
New Delhi: It's been more than a month since the government legislated a provision for reservation to economically weaker sections among general category. Since then, several state governments have either initiated implementation of the 10 percent quota or are in the process of doing so. The Supreme Court, while agreeing to examine the constitutional validity of the quota, has refused to stay the decision on two separate occasions.
PS Krishnan, former secretary to the Government of India, has been working in the field of social justice for Scheduled Castes, Schedules Tribes and Backward Caste for more than six decades. Speaking to News18.com on the issue of economic reservation, he explains why its implementation could cause irreparable damage.
How do you see the whole concept of providing reservation for economically weaker sections?
The founding fathers of the Constitution deeply considered the issue of caste system and untouchability. The suffering it has caused to certain classes of people and the harm it will do, not only to them but the whole country, if not remedied. It is in this context that reservation was introduced for the Scheduled Castes (SC), Scheduled Tribes (ST) and Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SedBCs) as only an instrument of removing the imbalance that was created by exclusion of these three classes in administration, governance and education by the caste system. Poverty, economic weakness and unemployment were not the considerations.
Equality among citizens is a basic feature of the Constitution. Certain special provisions, not exceptions as it is misunderstood, were provided for the oppressed classes to support this principle. So, equality is a basic feature of the Constitution, drawing from the principles of social equality and social justice laid down in the Preamble. Social equality here means equality for those who were made unequal by the caste system and untouchability. Reservation for the so-called economically weaker sections is contrary to this basic feature of the Constitution.
Also, you reserve when somebody or some class is not able to secure his/her/their due share by performance in open competition for reasons for which they are not to blame. You do not provide reservation to those who are represented more than their population proportion in every field i.e., the socially advanced classes. So, it is also contrary to the basic philosophy of reservation.
Even Narasimha Rao government had tried to bring in reservation for the economically weaker sections but it was struck down by the court. Does the current government bringing an amendment make a difference?
The Narasimha Rao government's provision for reservations was struck down by the Supreme Court on grounds that "poverty not consequent upon collective social oppression and exclusion is not intended to be covered by the provision of reservation under the constitutional scheme of things”.
Now the question is whether the recent constitutional amendment makes a difference to this position of the Supreme Court. In my opinion, it doesn't because the opinions expressed by some of the judges show that what they have said will apply to a situation even when there is a constitutional amendment.
With no stay by the Supreme Court, some states are already implementing the 10 percent quota for the poor in the general category…
Petitioners must clearly argue before the court about the harm that will be done if there is no stay on this. They should point out the precedents that how in 1990 following the Mandal decision of the VP Singh government, there was a stay order which remained for two years till the final judgement in 1992 upholding the constitutional validity of reservation to SedBCs.
Similarly, in 2006, there was a stay order with regard to extending reservation to the SedBCs in education which remained in place for two years. So, these precedents must be clearly brought out before the Supreme Court. They'll have to point out why a stay order is necessary.
There is a balance of advantages and disadvantages. If somebody is recruited or given a seat in education, the damage to others who are not covered by this will be irreparable. The undeserved advantage given to somebody will be irreparable. On the other hand, if it is constitutionally upheld after that, they will get their rights as backward classes got theirs. So, this needs to be pointed out properly and I am sure the Supreme Court will give impartial consideration if all the facts are clearly placed before the bench that considers this and only then can we see what order will come from the Supreme Court.
At present, it was not an order following clear-cut arguments and placements of facts before the court.
What do you think will be the overall impact of this 10 percent quota on the Backward Castes?
Whatever is not covered by the special provisions for those who are collectively oppressed, suppressed and excluded is not reserved for the forward castes but is open for all. Even the reserved castes have the right to compete for seats and posts under unreserved 50.5 percent.
At present, the forward castes are able to get almost all of those open seats, but something goes also to the oppressed castes, and gradually as there is educational progress among them, they will be able to get a larger share of that 50.5 percent. Now, you have reduced that to 40.5 percent, so that right of the SCs, STs and BCs will be adversely affected.
If not reservation, what else can be done to help poor sections?
It is true that there are poor people among the socially advanced castes other than the SedBCs and they have to be helped. But the antidote to poverty is removal of poverty and elimination of the effects of poverty. Reservation and similar measures are the remedy for 'social inequality' created over centuries against certain classes. The disease of the poor individuals of forward castes is not inequality. It is not prevention from access to education institutions and opportunities, but only financial incapacity.
The remedy for that is to create financial capacity and provide mitigation. For example, providing scholarships and loans to a child of the forward caste who is really poor, not Rs 8 lakh poor, and is not able to continue education. For improving their economic condition, there are schemes which should be expanded. Provide them on a large scale, but without cutting down on what SCs, STs and BCs require.
How do you counter the argument that reservation curbs merit and deprives deserving people of opportunities?
Merit and reservation are not contrary to each other. Swami Vivekananda defined education as the process of bringing out the divinity already in man. Based on this, I define reservation as the process of bringing out the merit already in SCs, STs and BCs.
It is not just theory. You see that states where reservation started earlier i.e., the southern states, have highest levels of literacy, better health indicators, lowest child mortality, etc. On the other hand, the northern states, which resisted reservation, are the most backward on these parameters. So, reservation harnesses the suppressed merit in the suppressed classes.
Coming back to the question of having reservations in the first place, how do you think it has helped the backward castes since it was first introduced?
Education levels are an indicator which the NSSO brings out periodically. Then there was the Arjun Sengupta committee. Literacy, which was at the lowest level at the time of Independence, has very much advanced, but still there are illiterates.
For instance, in Kerala, which is the most educationally advanced state in the country, Scheduled Caste literacy was almost nil; it is now about 89 percent. You couldn't have achieved it without reservation. But even then, 11 percent are illiterates, while only 2 percent upper castes are illiterates. So, we have progressed, but not progressed adequately. Reservation is not the medicine for all the diseases. It is only to correct the imbalance.
A battery of measures such as land distribution, quality pre-school and school education to the SCs and STs, are required to holistically remove inequality, of which reservation is one. It is important, but it is not the only one.
Some people have even gone as far as to say that the EWS quota is the beginning of the end of caste-based reservation. What's your take on that?
Unless there is an end to caste and caste-based inequalities, you cannot get out of caste-based reservations and caste-based measures. How can reservation go unless you eliminate the circumstances which created reservations?
Scheduled Castes have been the victims of untouchability that is not merely restrictions or impositions which humiliate you, but also economic and educational restrictions. SCs are told that they can't get educated, they shall only sweep, they shall not own any land, they shall only be labourers, etc. Untouchability is all this. So, when you eliminate all these circumstances and create equality, then caste, we hope, will wither away.
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