Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Fallacy of the Reservation Policy

A friend once shared me with this experience that he had when he went for engineering counseling. There was a boy there, from his coaching center, who was from a specific backward community and he wanted to pursue Mechanical Engineering, when his parents and some of the other people present there told him that based on his cut off marks and based on the quota system, he can get a seat for Computer Science engineering. The tragedy is that the boy chose the Computer Science option. The tragedy is that the country possibly lost a good mechanical engineer. If you carefully notice here, there are multiple problems here. One is the problem with our mindset, wherein we do not consider that the boy probably has a better aptitude for Mechanical Engineering. The other problem is that our society is becoming increasingly materialistic and wealth-driven. The option of an Engineering degree in Computer Science is considered because of the sad foresight that a profession in the IT Industry will be the more economically viable option in the short term. Here, the fact that the boy would probably be a better mechanical engineer than a programmer is not considered. While these are sad realities, one of the problems is also here that our education system has already reserved a seat for us, based on the community in which we were born, because some of our ancestors were socially discriminated against in a previous era. I am personally therefore against reservations in our education system but this does not mean that I do not want our socially backward communities not to advance and be progressive. It is just that I have serious reservations about the way we have gone about achieving the same.

When the V.P. Singh government went about implementing the Mandal Commission Recommendations in the 1990's there were serious opposition from several student groups, including some sad instances of self immolation. However this post of mine is not intended to add to the protest against government policies. I have not benefited from this policy and therefore I have an inherent bias. I, therefore am not qualified to attack the policy in itself. However, it has to be mentioned that today this policy is more often than not a tool that major political parties utilize to get numbers for the elections or they are scared to take a step against reservations mainly because in terms of whole communities, there is often unanimous demand for reservations and thereby the numbers and the vote banks they represent has the power to topple governments. We have seen this even recently when there were widespread protests during the Vasundhara Raje regime, by the Gurjar community in Rajasthan. The fact that a community is protesting so that it could be slotted as backward itself is a big tragedy, since it shows very much that the problem is not with social discrimination now, but with inefficiency in the implementation of government schemes and education delivery model.

One of the mistakes with these kind of policies is that while they have been implemented across the country, there is no measurement of how effectively they are being implemented. It may be done by some other inquiry commission later on, when the subject is broached upon, but a periodic review process of the implementation and whether it is proving effective must have been included in the policy itself. I was not sure whether this has been done and therefore I had filed an RTI query regarding the same with the Department of Higher Education. Refer DOHED/R/2013/61580/1. To quote my query verbatim,

The Mandal Commission recommendations were implemented for Higher Education in 1990s. Many colleges and universities allot seats based on Caste. Has there been any research or retrospective study as to how much this has helped and how many people from the deprived communities have been uplifted. Are there any statistics present to know how many families have benefited from reservation and how many communities are not backward anymore due to this system.

Also if there are such statistics, are there any plans or guidelines as to until what period in the future this policy of reservations will be followed. How much longer will it take to bring out this percentage of population out of its backwardness.
I received a reply from the Department of Higher Education that no such information was available and that my request has been forwarded to other departments. I recently got the same reply from University Grants Commission as well. Therefore, as of now, we know that there has been no retrospective study of whether this process or policy implementation is proving to be useful or effective. While even recently the present Congress government is standing by the reservation policy, perhaps the question the government needs to respond to is, how much good has come out of it. Is it being measured effectively? If so, how long until we continue to follow the same.

One point of view expounded by the BJP, the other mainstream political party is about creating equal opportunities for all citizens thereby diminishing the requirement for reservations. This, I feel is again in some ways a flawed argument mainly because we also have the trend of many seats going vacant in many engineering/arts colleges across the country. Also there are contradictions in their stance regarding reservations according to regional compulsions as has been seen recently with the move to ask for reservation in promotions for government jobs. It cannot be just a supply and demand problem. The political leadership of the country will have to devise an innovative solution to address the present flaws in the Indian Education System.

At some point in time, in the future if we one day wake up to the reality that India is a country without the requisite skilled labor across all fields it might then be too late to make changes. It could then be too difficult to bring about reform and no one might take accountability. I hope that even if the government of the day does not have the information today, some day it will collect the same, otherwise the fallacy in the current reservation policy will never be exposed.