Thursday, January 17, 2019

Income Based Reservation - A Master stroke right before general elections

Narendra Modi led BJP government is known to take unexpected turns. De-monetization, buying Rafael off the shelf etc. are good examples for that. A couple of days back, government took another such decision which gives 10% reservation to economically weaker sections of Indian society regardless of their caste or religion. Everything happened so fast and 124th constitution amendment bill was bulldozed through both houses of parliament with hardly any discussion (or in any select committee or in any other committee for that matter).

124th amendment bill made modifications to fundamental rights in Article 15 and 16. As the constitution doesn’t provide provision for reservation based on economic condition/income these changes were essential.

1. Bill amends Article 15 to permit government to provide for the advancement of “economically weaker sections”.  Further, up to 10% of seats may be reserved for such sections for admission in educational institutions.  Such reservations will not apply to minority educational institutions.

2. Amendments to Article 16 to permit the government to reserve up to 10% of all posts for the “economically weaker sections” of citizens.

3. Reservation of up to 10% for “economically weaker sections” in educational institutions and public employment will be in addition to the existing reservation.

4. Central government will notify the “economically weaker sections” of citizens on the basis of family income and other indicators of economic disadvantage.

In order to qualify for this reservation, a family should,

1. Have an annual income of less than Rs.8 lakhs, or
2. Own less than five acres of farmland, or
3. Have a house lesser than 1,000 sq. feet in a town (or 100 sq. yard in a notified municipal area).

The efficiency with which the bill went through both houses of parliament is something which even then the private sector can only dream.

I would rather prefer huge government investment in education sector, rather than reservations in jobs. I believe education is one of the few sectors where government should own the institutions.
However, I don’t have much objections to reservations for economically backward sections. After all, it’s far better blindly following caste-based reservations. Caste-based reservation indeed changed so many things in India. This affirmative action brought new section of people to the front line of Indian society. However, it hardly made a dent in the social system.

Now you might give me examples for places where backward untouchable people raised from ashes and reached the vanguard of society. Well, it’s true; but if we take it in full context, rather than reservations it’s the powerful social upheaval of the time led by visionary leaders which made the changes. Sri Narayana Guru and Chattambi Swamy led social movements in Kerala is one such glaring example.

Even though voices are raiscenturies-old old system is still prevailing in huge swaths of Hindi belt. Neither more than seven-decade old reservation system nor conventional education was able to eradicate that.

Irony is, to get reservations numerous otherwise forward communities in Gujrat, Rajasthan, Haryana, Maharashtra etc. at the forefront of multiple strikes.

Government’s decision was indeed a masterstroke. Hardly anyone expected this one; more than that hardly any party could object this policy change in public. Well, the government had to do some populist item before general elections. Previously everyone tried farm loan waiver. Now it became a new normal. Everyone now a days expect a farm loan waiver right before state and general elections. It lost its novelty. Less than expected GST income, fiscal responsibility rules, controversy in shifting RBI reserves, huge NPAs in the banking sector created other barriers for a general farm loan waiver.

What I find distressing in 124th amendment for reservations to economically backward section is,

1. The speed with which it went through both houses of parliament. This amendment involves changes to some of the basic rights of Indian citizens. It should have debated properly. Is debate on bills in parliament is slowly becoming a memory?

2. 10% reservation to economically backward sections will break supreme court rule which prohibits overall reservation above 50%.

3. Income required to qualify for this reservation is pretty much higher. Even after demonetization (which increased formalization of the economy), a good percentage of Indian economy operates outside government lens. Who will decide who is eligible for reservation? On paper everyone can show an income under 8 lakhs (expect those who gets income only through salary from organized sector).

4. Its going to open a pandora's box. If the amendment went through SC then most powerful communities Maharashtra, Gujarat, Haryana, Rajasthan etc. may become more vocal in their demands. After all, the sacred limit of 50% will be broken. As the old saying goes, once you crossed the Rubicon there is no turning back.

Let’s wait and watch whether 124th amendment will go through SC.


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