OBC list issue: Quotas solve little

Source:  Indian ExpressTOITOI

Relevance: latest developments in the issue of OBC reservation.

Synopsis: Reservation is a sticky issue in Indian politics. The recent move of restoring the rights of States to frame the OBC list (127th amendment bill) is seen by many as a step in the right direction.


Political parties showed unity in passing the bill to restore the right of states to make the OBC list. The clamor for caste census is justified on the following grounds:

  • The caste census was last held in 1931 and later discontinued. The government attempted a Socio-Economic Caste Census (SECC), but its data was not published.
  • Parties, ranging from ruling factions and opposition, have demanded the caste census.
  • The minister of Home affairs remarked in Parliament that the Government does not wish to enumerate the population caste-wise.
What is the utility of such a census?

Caste has a strong influence on public affairs and access to resources. Even India’s affirmative action is based on caste, so evidence-based policy-making demands caste-wise enumeration. Such data would also maximize the gains of reservation policies.

What are the issues with the current move?
  • This bill negates the outcome of the Supreme Court judgment, which said that only GOI can identify OBC groups.
  • The youth is leaving agriculture and heading to seek private jobs. As the market is unable to create jobs, political parties are making this an identity issue. Thus, the direction of affirmative action in India has taken a turn towards populism with reservation, becoming a political issue and agenda of many parties e.g. Maratha and Patidar issue.
  • Though people are seeking to expand reservations in jobs, the jobs are shrinking. E.g. between 2012 and 2020, the number of people employed by GoI in 79 ministries has shrunk from 3 mn to 1.8 mn.
What is the way forward?

Though there is a need to know the caste data for better policymaking, we should not let the issue be politicized. At the same time, there is a need to strengthen affirmative action through skilling, employment, and other socio-economic interventions.

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