Quotas & consequences
IT is rare, in India’s fractious polity, to see almost all its major political parties agreed on a policy proposal. However, that unusual sight is currently visible in the general agreement, at a recent all-party meeting, to the need to ensure that reservations for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in government promotions stand up to judicial scrutiny. One of the dissenters, the Samajwadi Party, doesn’t object to the nature of the provision, but to its scope, saying that Other Backward Classes, or OBCs, its main political base, should not be ignored. This lack of discussion and debate … is worrying.
There are several issues at work here. The principle of reservations in selection for government posts is relatively uncontroversial and has stood up to several judicial tests. The questions begin to pile up, however, when the beneficiaries of those original quotas start moving up hierarchies. Further quotas in promotions were at first struck down by the courts, though a five-year window was permitted, as a ‘special case’. Before the five-year window closed, amendments to the constitution were passed enabling such reservations in promotion decisions.
Yet … what happens when someone gains exceptional seniority through reservations in selection — but then demands the benefits of seniority when it comes to general-category selection for further promotion? This phenomenon, the consequential seniority that accrues from quota-based accelerated promotion, was permitted by the courts — as long as state governments can show ‘compelling reasons’…. The Uttar Pradesh government’s recent service rules, which allowed for consequential seniority for reserved candidates, were held by the Supreme Court recently to show no such compelling reasons…. These issues should receive more political scrutiny. The theory that there could be cascading effects of reservations at every level should not be ignored; it can be demoralising and demotivating for a cadre to have its rules of seniority upended so thoroughly. …—(Aug 25)