The key to revitalising India’s reservation system

Synopsis: A Socio-economic caste-based census becomes a necessary precondition to initiate any meaningful reform.


Recently, the central government’s decision to introduce reservations for Other Backward Classes (OBCs) in the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) examinations has been appreciated. This ignited the debate on caste census once again and brought the debate on affirmative action into the limelight.

Affirmative action programme: It was envisaged during the founding moments of the republic. It has enunciated the principle of justice in a deeply unequal and oppressive Indian society.

What is the problem with the current system?

Inequitable: Reservation, despite seven decades, has not translated into an equitable distribution of benefits for many groups in our heterogeneous society.

Consequently, many groups have been left out. There is a strong demand from those who have not been able to get the benefits of reservations, from within the marginalized sections. This calls for a need to devise some policy option that may be able to supplement the existing system of reservation. To study this in detail, the Justice Rohini commission was constituted.

What are the observations of Justice G. Rohini Commission?

The data given by the committee on the sub-categorization of OBC provide some crucial observations.

Key findings of the committee

Based on the last five years data the commission concluded that 97% of central OBC quota benefits go to just under 25% of its castes.

As many as 983 OBC communities — 37% of the total — have zero representation in both central government jobs and admissions to central universities.

Also, the report states that just 10% of the OBC have accrued 24.95% of jobs and admissions.

How does insufficiency of data impact policymaking?

The Rohini committee data was based only on the institutions that come under the purview of the central government. The committee hardly has any legible data on the socio-economic conditions of varied social groups at more local levels of State and society.

There is a need for accurate data pertaining to the socio-economic condition of different social groups. Caste-based reservations are important to study upward mobility in society.

Read more: Caste based census in India – Explained, pointwise
What needs to be done?

There is an urgent requirement for a mechanism to address this lacuna and make the system more accountable and sensitive to intra-group demands. So the following actions can be taken:

First, there is a need to develop a wide variety of context-sensitive, evidence-based policy options that can be tailored to meet specific requirements of specific groups.

Second, we need an institution like the ‘Equal Opportunities Commission’ of the United States or the United Kingdom which can:

  1. Make a deprivation index correlating data from the socio-economic-based census of different communities including caste, gender, religion and rank them to make tailor-made policies.
  2. Undertake an audit on the performance of employers and educational institutions on non-discrimination and equal opportunity, and issue codes of good practice in different sectors.
What can be the way ahead?

Socio-economic caste-based census becomes a necessary precondition to initiate any meaningful reform in the affirmative action regime in India. So, that can act as a good first step.

Source: This post is based on the article “The key to revitalising India’s reservation system” published in The Hindu on 6th  September 2021.

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