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Monday, May 01, 2006

A sensible way to introduce reservations…

In the midst of the debate about reservations in higher education institutes and private sector, I thought I should add my couple of words as well (for whatever it is worth…)

Firstly, let me put records straight by saying that I am completely against reservations of any kind (and most definitely where the basis of reservations happens to be caste). I do agree that ‘affirmative action’ is one of the solution to remedy the problem we have (and yes, we do have a problem on our hands) but more importantly I believe the solution lies in bringing the lower caste candidates to the level of the ‘more privileged’ upper caste candidates be it in terms of scholarships or infrastructure or extra tuitions etc – but ultimately people (irrespective of caste) have to come up with the goods to deserve selections.

However I must also disclose that I belong to the ‘upper caste’ and thus my views may be considered to be prejudiced accordingly.

Now let me come to what I think is a sensible way of introducing reservations (if the Indian society at large has made up its mind for doing so)

  • Limited time period – First and foremost the law which introduces reservations has to be with a limited time period and which is predetermined. Further it has to be the case that the law expires after the passage of the pre-determined period and if the law is to be extended, then it again needs to go through the process of parliamentary approval. The effect of this is that this thrusts the topic of reservations once again into public domain when the time for its lapse/renewal comes. As to what should be appropriate time period – society has to be the judge but suffice it to say that a couple of years is too less a time for the law to have an impact and a couple of decades too long.

  • Measurable criterion to judge effectiveness – Second thing (and this ought to be extended to all existing reservations) is that we should have measurable criterion to judge the effectiveness of the law. The quantifiable parameters could be in terms of social or economic parameters or a mix of both. But certainly we should have set parameters in mind the achievement of which shall establish that the law has served its purpose and it needs to go. Now irrespective of whether the parameters are social or economic or both, they ought to be in terms of dispersion of these parameters on caste and ought to be compared in a like to like manner (e.g. given similar economic backgrounds is it more likely that lower caste people are less educated? or given similar geographic background are lower caste people likely to be less economically advanced etc). Further we must have in place robust means to gather such data. If the census does not serve this purpose, it needs to be recalibrated accordingly for 2011 edition and onwards.

  • Measurable criterion to judge failure – Third thing (and this too ought to be extended to all existing reservations) is to be able to have measurable criterion to be able to determine that the law has failed to serve its purpose. After all it is no body’s claim that reservation policies are a panacea of all caste problems. It is just one of the measures being suggested to solve the caste problem (at least partially). Hence we must be able to judge and determine (and conclusively) whether the presumption is indeed valid. It may very well turnout that reservation policies do not solve the problem (for whatever reasons) and we must then move on and try something else. And once having turned our back on reservations never comeback to it unless there are sufficient circumstances which warrant that (and definitely not before we try other untried measures first).

Well, these are just some thoughts that came to my mind which unfortunately no one seems to talk about when discussing reservations. No one even those who favor reservations seem to have any clue as to what is the most efficient way of implementing the policy. Above points seem to me to be very fair and reasonable expectations from a ‘upper caste’ person who opposes reservations, in case the country does indeed decide to implement this policy.

May the persons concerned get some sense (no pun intended!)…

That’s it for now….

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