Reservation system: Temporary support or permanent crutches?

For centuries, India has seen a very rigid hierarchical caste based structure in society wherein the higher castes enjoyed most of the benefits at the cost of the regressing lower castes. To correct this, the reservation system took birth.
In quota system, a certain percentage of seats in government institutions are reserved for members of backward communities (defined mainly by caste and tribe). Reservation is bound by constitutional and statutory laws as well as local rules and regulations. Scheduled Castes (SC), Scheduled Tribes (ST) and Other Backward Classes (OBC) are the primary beneficiaries, with the object of ensuring a just playing field.
In 1982, the Constitution specified 15% and 7.5% of vacancies in public sector and government-aided educational institutes as a quota reserved for the SC and ST candidates respectively for a period of five years, after which the quota system would be reviewed. This period was routinely extended by the succeeding governments. The Supreme Court of India ruled that reservations could not exceed 50% (which it judged would violate equal access guaranteed by the Constitution) and put a cap on reservations.
However, there are state laws that exceed this 50% limit and these are under litigation in the Supreme Court. For example, the caste-based reservation stands at 69% and the same is applicable to about 87% of the population in the State of Tamil Nadu. In 1990, Prime Minister V. P. Singh announced that 27% of government positions would be set aside for OBCs in addition to the 22.5% already set aside for the SCs and STs. Reservation has always been the buzzword in Indian politics, recently buzzed by Former Delhi CM, Arvind Kejriwal, who was even considering 90% reservation to Delhites in DU colleges. Not to forget senior Congress leader Janardan Dwivedi, who on Feb 4 2014 called for an end to reservation on caste lines and urged Rahul Gandhi to introduce quota for financially weaker sections bringing all communities under its ambit. So, this topic is important.. ALWAYS important.
The reservation system has received a mixed response since it came into being. It has allowed for decreasing the gap between the upper and lower castes by allowing the latter to enjoy the further increased opportunities as the former in jobs, education and governance by allotting seats exclusively for them. Meanwhile it has been criticized for discouraging a merit-based system and encouraging vote bank politics.
Over 60 years have passed but still officially there’s isn’t a single community that has crossed the barriers of backwardness despite the help of all the aid policies. So either it’s not being done right or people have simply got used to the benefits they are receiving and are making indiscriminate use of being in the backward class. Let’s put forward our points:


Prevalent casteism: Though most of us chose not to accept it, casteism in the modern day India exists. Maybe it’s not as blatant and in the face like it was 2000 years ago, but it still matters. The “backward” communities are still looked down upon. And while people in urban India talk about it in whispers, rural India still openly sees its share of discrimination. Up until the point where all castes are not given similar social standing in society, these reservation policies for their upliftment will be essential. The menial jobs are still seen as areas of work of lower class society and Prevalent arrange marriage system of India still very much promotes casteism. Till we can socially accept lower castes as our equals, we cannot demand to take away their rights. Only when it comes to education and employment we demand equality but till date people still have reservations in sharing the same public space with a person from lower caste. The harsh reality is that the distribution of types of jobs among the different classes is marginalized towards the backward class. Most of the backward class is employed in jobs that require physical skills unlike the elite who are positioned in jobs oriented towards mental skills. Until unless this disparity is dealt with, the idea of equality would remain inaccessible.
Need of a social change: Anti – reservationists will say, if 60 years with reservation policies is not enough to help the backward classes then it’s not possible even if these policies stay forever. But in reality roughly two or three generations of these backward classes have really experienced the benefits of the reservation policies as opposed to the benefits that the upper caste society have enjoyed for hundred generations. A social revolution takes time. There are still an elderly population of the backward class that lives with stigma of being from the lower castes. And unless opportunities in form of reservation in academic institutions and employment sectors are provided to them, the present and the coming generations can never really come out of the lower caste shell. Unless given incentives in these manners, they will not choose to look at education as a necessity in life. And then how can we dream of India being a global super power if vast majority of its population still lives in their small comfort bubble and is not given opportunities to expand their horizons.
Economic backwardness: It’s true that poverty knows no class. But even in the current conditions, poverty is more prevalent in the backward classes. The opportunities in front of a normal middle class person from an upper caste far outnumber the ones for a person from lower class. Money still plays a far more important role in their lives. The reservation provided to them gives them an opportunity to hope that the coming generations will not have to face the adversities they did and will be able to focus on fulfilling their potential.
Budget 2014-15 speaks: In the current interim budget presented by the Finance Minister on February 17, 2014, the budgetary allocation under Scheduled Caste Sub Plan (SCSP) and Tribal Sub Plan (TSP) amounts to only 8.76% and 5.53 % respectively as opposed to 16.6% of Scheduled Caste and 8.6 percentage of Scheduled Tribe population. The allocations made under SCSP AND TSP are to the tune of 79364.38 Crores whereas the total allocations should have been 139941.14 Crores. That means in actual terms Dalits and Adivasis have been denied budgetary allocation running as high as 60576.76 Crores. Clearly the only sign of relief to these people is the reservation that the Constitution provides them, as not much is being allocated for their upliftment otherwise.  
Reservation is working: There has been a remarkable increase in the numbers of SC/ST Government employees over the years. In 1960, the absolute numbers of the SC Government employees stood at 228000, which increased to 590000 in 1990, but lowered a little to 540000 in 2003. The percentage share of the SC employees to the total Government employees was 12.24% in 1960, which increased to about 17% in 2003; fairly close to their percentage share in the population. In the case of the STs, their absolute numbers increased from 37000 in 1960 to 211000 in 2003 with a corresponding increase in their percentage share from 2% in 1960 to 6.46 % in 2003. Similarly, the absolute numbers of the SC employees in the PSUs increased from 40000 in 1971 to 236000 in 2004 and from 12000 to 114000 for the STs. The absolute numbers of the SC employees in nationalized banks increased from 55000 in 1978 (10 percent) to 143000 in 2004 (17.6 percent) and from 8000 (1.56 percent) to 43000 (5.72 percent) for the STs. The data mentioned above does not include Government spheres like education. With the inclusion of these sectors, the absolute numbers of SC/ST employees under reservation further increases. This data clearly elucidates a marked improvement in the absolute numbers of the SCs and the SCs in Government employment, however, there are considerable variations among different Groups of jobs. Generally, reservations are close to the stipulated quotas in Group C and Group D jobs, but less in the case of Group A and Group B categories of jobs. So, the reservation system is working but there is more to be done and hence it needs to stay.


Compromise on merit: In the present scenario, at least in the section of higher education and job market, merit has taken a back seat. The criteria should be same for everyone. The qualification required should be based on merit and not on the community one belongs to. Currently backwardness and poverty are not restricted to communities. So they shouldn’t be treated as a basis and rather a person’s academic ability should be grounds for gaining admission or employment. On the 27th of June 1961 Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru (First Prime Minister of India) wrote to the Chief Ministers: If we go in for any kind of reservations on communal and caste basis, we will swamp the bright and able people and remain second rate or third rate. The moment we encourage the second rate, we are lost. And then he adds pointedly: This way lies not only folly, but also disaster.
Reverse discrimination: Poverty knows no class and no caste. Communities that haven’t been labelled as backward also have their share of people who aren’t as well economically or socially well off. So despite the merit or qualification that they might possess, they are deprived of their due. How long should they be deprived of their rights to promote the interests of other communities?
Upholding caste system: The effect of casteism in the past drew a huge gap between the so called upper and lower castes. The laws framed for the upliftment of the lower castes have caused a deeper divide instead of decreasing it. There is still a lot of mutual distrust and hatred and these policies have led to the creation of new inequalities in the society.
Striving to be backward: It is not unheard of communities wanting to be backward to avail the various benefits of the reservation policies. Various malpractices have come into notice where people have declared themselves as belonging to a backward community through the means of false certificates just to enjoy the perks of the reservation system. This also has given rise to the lax attitude of people belonging to backward societies as they don’t have to work as hard enough and compete with the best owing to relaxed criteria of the reservation policies.
Sense of Inequality: There are people among the unreserved communities who have been denied jobs or promotions in spite of performing better than those favoured by reservations. This has caused anger, jealousy and hatred amongst the affected families belonging to the forward communities. This has even lead to people looking for education / employment opportunities abroad as they have been deprived of the fruits of their labour. Reservation insults peoples’ ability and intellect directly as it readily allows the authority to sack really deserving candidates in the name of caste. It’s just telling someone that, ‘Your ancestors have done wrong, so you should pay for that. You may have more quality and you may have more intellect, but I would not allow you to occupy seat or job as you are the upper caste.
Vote-bank politics: Politics in India has nothing to do with the worthy. One of the major reasons a person will vote for a specific candidate is still the community he belongs to. And to ensure victory, politicians keep the divide between communities patent. There can be no hope for “One India” as long as these practises happen. At this rate, every community will want its own state and its own leaders to form the government. This is the road the quota system has made Indians follow.
Is it really helping? : Reservation has ended up creating another privileged section, which is suppressing their own community. The idea of helping the needy one is hampered because it creates a creamy layer. This policy is against the idea of reservation because when the policy was undertaken it was assumed that upper castes were the creamy and wealthy layer of the society where the lower castes’ people cannot enjoy the same as their counterpart. Then why the creamy layers are included in reservations. The answer is nakedly political.
Inefficient work environment:Reservation in jobs produces adverse effects in work areas where some will get privilege in case of promotions and other matters and at the same time someone will be denied in the term of castes creating another inequality and unfairness in spite of having suitable qualifications. Also the reservation system in India is creating a workforce which is not capable enough to compete at the global level. India needs people for growth and development but reservation is adding undeserving candidates as well.
A feudalistic process of rights: Reservation is a feudalistic process of rights as it can be enjoyed throughout the life and generations in the name of castes. We see communities fighting for their rights to be declared minority and enjoy reservation privileges while never will we encounter a community giving up these privileges citing that they have been benefited from the reservation policies and would want to remove the tag of “backward class”.


In the present scenario, there is much debate on the actual benefits of the quota system. Like any other government policy, this had also been marred by corruption. The real culprit is the fact that there isn’t a credible mean to measure the change these policies have brought about. There are several communities which no longer require these reservations while some which still haven’t been able to fully utilise its benefits. Also quota on the basis of economic conditions seems a more logical route to go by. Scholarships and economic aids can replace reservations in educational institutions. But all this is easier said than done. These policies are also the victims of the political conditions in India so clearly they aren’t going to be abolished any time soon. While completely removing the quota system is not the answer, it is high time that these policies are reviewed and clauses altered according to the present situation of India.
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8 thoughts on “Reservation system: Temporary support or permanent crutches?

  1. Also mandal commision …it took population census of 1936!!! And we follow that still today….who know whether alll the backward classes that are called backward are actually backward or not…because population census never takes into account caste or classes

    1. Thanks for bringing “Mandal Commission” in the debate. This debate would have been incomplete without your comment on the census data that was used. Thanks again. We are not even sure how many backwards classes exist, yet we are working for their upliftment. Its nakedly political.

      For those of you, who wants to know more on this commission, follow this article:

  2. “In 1960, the absolute numbers of the SC Government employees stood at 228000, which increased to 590000 in 1990, and further to 540000 in 2003”.
    Is there a decrease in numbers of SC Government employees from 1990 to 2003 or it’s just a typo?

  3. The sentence was framed incorrectly, but the figure is correct (Source:Annual Report, Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions,
    Government of India, New Delhi, 1985-1986, 1989-1990, and 2004-2005).

    Thanks a lot for pointing out the mistake. Yes, the SC actual numbers lowered a little in 2003. But the point still is valid as there is an overall increase from the 60s to 2003.

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