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Opinion » Comment

Posted at: Sep 13, 2017, 12:18 AM; last updated: Sep 13, 2017, 12:18 AM (IST)

Resolve without reserve

Yogendra Yadav
Haryana should reassess quota benefits in entirety
Resolve without reserve
On wane: The socio-economic status of the Jats of Haryana is declining.

Yogendra Yadav

Jat reservation issue is an example of our collective failure to resolve any contentious matter. Last week the judiciary followed the executive and the legislature in contributing to the systemic paralysis on this issue. Judicial equivocation combined with political procrastination could once again put Haryana to crisis and anarchy, as it did last year. 

The issue is straightforward, though not easy to resolve. Like all farming communities, the social and economic status of the Jats of Haryana is declining, compared to city dwelling communities. If a family does not have a salaried employee or stakes in real estate or business, they are pushed to the margins. This sense of real and perceived marginalisation has been used by the self-styled community leadership to demand reservation. They use the numeric and political clout of the community to pressure the government into conceding this demand.

Over the last quarter of a century, successive Haryana governments have made repeated attempts to introduce reservation for the Jats. Each of these attempts have been shot down by the courts. The latest chapter in this drama is being enacted since 2013. The Congress government in Haryana and the UPA government in the Centre announced reservation for Jats (along with five other smaller communities viz Ror, Bishnoi, Jat Sikh, Tyagi and Mulla Jat/Muslim Jat), just before the 2014 elections. The Congress leadership knew that an order defying the recommendations of the National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC) was going to be turned down in the courts but they could not care less.

Eventually, the Congress lost and the same game was taken over by the BJP. As expected, the Supreme Court rejected the Central government’s notification. The apex court indicted the Haryana Government for basing its decision on the Gupta commission findings that were found faulty and biased by the NCBC. Jat leaders  arm-twisted the new BJP government in Haryana to re-enact the reservation. Last year, they served an ultimatum on the government, plunging the state into anarchy and violence. Thereafter, the Haryana Vidhan Sabha passed an Act (Reservation in Services and Admission in Educational Institutions) in 2016 setting up the backward class commission in the state, and at the same time, creating a new category of OBC reservation (Schedule 3). This new category, comprising the same six castes as earlier,  was given a separate quota, over and above the existing reservation. Interestingly, the Haryana Government again invoked the Gupta commission to justify this decision. 

Last week, the Punjab and Haryana High Court delivered its judgment on the three recommendations challenging this decision. The court upheld the validity of the Act and the constitution of the State Backward Class Commission. This was not contentious as no one had challenged in its entirety. The court also allowed the government to go beyond the 50 per cent ceiling on all reservations. It did so by invoking the case of Tamil Nadu where reservations beyond 50 per cent have been permitted. This part of the judgment may face legal challenge.

The main point of this case, however, was the validity or otherwise of the Schedule 3 in this Act. Those who challenged this decision argued that the Government of Haryana recycled the Gupta commission findings that were rejected by the NCBC and discarded by the Supreme Court. The high court took note of the Supreme Court’s observation and therefore could not obviously uphold reservation for communities under Schedule 3. At the same time, the court appears reluctant to scrap this altogether. Like the politicians, the judges too dodged a hard decision.

The High Court charted a middle path. It kept the reservation in Schedule 3 “in abeyance” till the government gathers fresh evidence and takes a decision about whether communities in Schedule 3 deserve reservation and, if yes, how much. On paper, everything is fair. The court has not accepted the government’s decision based on this data. It has set out a detailed time schedule and transparent process for gathering new evidence, inviting public objections, scrutiny and final decision. 

The net outcome, however, is already known and predictable. In all probability, we are going to witness one more round of Jat reservation theatre. Supporters and opponents of Jat reservation will re-submit well known, dated and largely irrelevant data. A new round of agitation will be announced. Deadlines will be declared, the government will be threatened with dire consequences. The government will scramble to discover or manufacture data that makes a case for Jat reservation. It will duly discover just in time for the parliamentary elections that Jats, along with the other five castes, deserve reservation. The government’s declaration will be challenged in the courts and may, in all probability, be quashed after the elections.

In other words, we are back to square one and set for the repeat of the predictable sequence from 2013 to 2017. Jat agitationists would have satisfied their constituencies. The ruling party would have secured a few votes. Who cares if in this process a few lives are lost and no one gets any benefit?

Is there a way out? There is a sane and sense resolution of this difficult question. Who gets reservation and how much need not be settled by street demonstrations and calculus of political power. This can be done in a fair and objective manner. The Government of India has with it the data from caste census (Socio-Economic and Caste Census) of 2011. This data contains all necessary information about social, economic, educational and job profile of each caste and community. 

So, the Government of Haryana can request the Centre for this data and make it public. The variables identified by the NCBC can be used to convert all this data into a simple index of backward classes. Depending on the backwardness score of each community, all non-SC/ST castes in the state can be placed in four categories: Those in the bottom two slabs can be placed in Scheduled 1 & 2 and given OBC reservation; those in the third slab can be given other benefits such as special scholarship, etc., but not reservation; those castes falling in the highest slab should, of course, be denied any special benefits. Some special provisions can be made for women within each category and the rich families from each community can be excluded from these benefits. This would mean some new castes or communities getting reservation and some existing communities being excluded from the list of beneficiaries. 

There is nothing new about this proposal. The real question is: Do we want a resolution? Do we have the political will to reach and enforce a fair and firm solution?

yogendra.yadav@gmail.com

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