In upholding the validity of the Constitution (93rd) Amendment Act 2005, the Supreme Court has given a judgement that restores perspective to the contentious issue of reservations in higher educational institutions. The politics and societal import of the issue have been subject of heated debate in India for sometime now.
The 93rd amendment amended Article 15 of the Constitution when read along with the Central Educational Institutions (Reservation in Admission) Act, 2006, provided for 27% reservation for other backward classes (OBCs) in these institutions. The claim is that it’s a measure that will go a long way in furthering egalitarian ends. It could not be more wrong.
Illustration: Jayachandran/ Mint
This can only be a quick, badly designed fix to the problem. The fact that reservations in higher educational institutions have to be enforced shows how badly the nation has been served by its school system. If the OBCs can’t get into elite institutions, a large part of the blame lies with poor schooling. This is not to deny social barriers they confront in their march ahead.
Yet, there are few, if any, political incentives to fix that. Not only would spending have to go up significantly, but attitudes to primary and school education would also have to change drastically. That does not fetch political runs.
On the other hand reservation in higher institutions is likely to yield such returns quickly. The age cohort that enters these institutes or is about to do so is roughly in the 15-24 years bracket. This is roughly 18.5% of India’s population. This is also the group that gets enfranchised at 18 years. The temptation to engage in populism is simply too great to resist.
The court, especially justice Dalveer Bhandari, has spelled that a balance between higher and school education is a must if things are to progress. The question is: Why could the court take an enlightened view that eluded politicians? Compulsions of electoral politics go a long way in answering this question. Unfortunately, that does not supply the solution to the problem at hand.
The court has balanced the needs for social justice and the long-term solution to get a grip on the problem. That is the way forward to achieve egalitarian goals that the Constitution stands for.
The dispute is about how to achieve these goals faster. The political fix by focusing on reservation in higher education as a means to that end is counterproductive. Politicians should heed what the court said.
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