Of reservations and merit

View the issues related to reservation pragmatically



Should the promotions be based on seniority or on the basis of reservation? This has become a hot topic of discussion ever since the Union Cabinet cleared the proposal to provide reservation to SCs and STs in promotions in government jobs and the issue was tossed on to the Parliament in the form of a Bill.
As usual, there is a vertical divide between the protagonists of reservation and those harping on the argument that seniority and merit should be the basis for promotion. While some feel promotions should be based on seniority, others feel the reservation will provide equal opportunities to SCs and STs to grow, thus removing social inequality that exists in society.
While both the arguments have merits and de-merits, the concept of reservation in promotion warrants a careful study as it flows from the Constitutional spirit of reaching out to those and giving them their due who have suffered social stigma and had been pushed down the ladder in the social structure. The process of redemption was eloquently looked into and addressed properly by the framers of the Constitution headed by none other than Dr B R Ambedkar himself. There is no doubt that it needs to taken to its logical conclusion but without rancour and in a spirit of consensus.
Per se no one should be opposed to the social uplift of the oppressed classes, barring some politically motivated and socially jingoistic groups, but the need of the hour is to view and carry out this exercise, of reservation in promotions, in a manner that leaves no space for any vested interest to exploit the situation for narrow political ends.
But the manner in which the issue was tossed by the BSP supremo Ms Mayawati in Parliament had all the ingredients of political opportunism and jingoism. And the manner in which it resulted in a Samajwadi Party vs BSP confrontation ostensibly with an eye on the Uttar Pradesh’s political turf was undesirable. The issue with multi-fold dimensions and that needed to be viewed and discussed in a proper context was reduced to a farcical debate with the sole aim of focusing on the vote bank politics.
At the centre of the current controversy is a judgment delivered by a two-judge bench of the Supreme Court in U.P Power Corporation Ltd. v. Rajesh Kumar in April 2012. It had already been held in M. Nagaraj v. Union of India (October 2006) that the state must demonstrate backwardness, inadequacy of representation and maintenance of efficiency before providing reservation in promotions. However, what the U.P Power Corporation did for the first time was to strike down reservation in promotions for not meeting these criteria.
All along, the issue of reservation in promotions has been an area of intense disagreement between Parliament and the Supreme Court. To overcome the decision of a nine-judge bench in Indra Sawhney and other judgments that disallowed reservation in promotions and consequential seniority, Parliament enacted three constitutional amendments in 1995, 2000 and 2002. While upholding the constitutional validity of the amendments, the Supreme Court in Nagaraj made it very clear that Article 16 (4A), which was inserted through these amendments, was only an enabling provision.
In essence, every time a government or the legislature sought to provide reservation in promotions under Article 16 (4A), it would have to pass constitutional muster. While justifying each attempt to provide reservation in promotions, the state would have to demonstrate backwardness, inadequacy of representation and maintenance of efficiency. The U.P. Government Servants Seniority Rules challenged in the U.P Power Corporation case was one such attempt.
It was back to square one. The present UPA Government had to take the same route of passing the Constitutional muster on issue. What hurts the most is that the issue of reservation, in all its manifestations, has all along been viewed and related to political expediencies.
It is no different in December, 2012, when Ms Mayawati caught the fledgling Congress-led UPA Government by the collar, forced the Parliament to debate the Bill and legislation the proposals related to reservation in promotions even if that required certain dilutions. And on its part, the Government living on day to day basis had no option but to follow suit to keep Ms Mayawati in good humour if the ruling dispensation was to survive.
On the face of it Ms Mayawati might have scored a moral victory and even the UPA Government and the premier opposition party BJP, agreeing to the debate with some amendments in the legislation, might claim some credit on the Bill at last becoming a national agenda. But the entire exercise could have been taken up in a more meaningful way had the proposal been discussed without any pressures with only the uplift-ment of the deprived sections of the society in mind.  
But nothing could be done and achieved in an electoral democracy without an element of drama and public posturing. At least the hard-boiled politicians believe so. There is certainly no harm in that as it is perfectly legitimate in a democratic set up. But certain sensitive issues such as reservation, of all kinds, need to be divested from politics and viewed pragmatically.
There is no denying the fact that there is a large section of the society which has been deprived of their basic rights over the centuries. And there is no denying the fact either that some historic measures have been taken during the last over six decades to address this problem and more needs to be done.
In this era of conflicts where even the democratic polity, unfortunately, is trying to live out of controversies, the issue of reservation, at least in promotions, needed to be tackled differently and on a more positive note. There is no scope left for any conflict on this front, which if allowed to happen could have serious repercussions on the national unity.
The framers of the Constitution had done their job superbly. It is incumbent upon the law makers of the day and the political spectrum not only the steadfastly protect and implement the relevant provisions but do it a congenial atmosphere. The best way out is to have wider national debate on such issues and let people, from all sections of the society, have a proper understanding of the issues to eradicate any possibility of misunderstanding and subsequent exploitation.

Lastupdate on : Sun, 16 Dec 2012 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Sun, 16 Dec 2012 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Mon, 17 Dec 2012 00:00:00 IST

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