New Delhi: Railway minister Lalu Prasad wants to reserve jobs in Indian Railways for Muslims, an idea a former officer says cannot be implemented because of existing rules regarding reservation in government departments, and one that politicians term populist.
According to officials familiar with the matter in the railway ministry, who did not wish to be identified, a fortnight ago, the Railway Board, the top management body of the Indian Railways, sent a letter to the ministry of personnel, seeking its approval for a reservation policy for Muslims. The ministry of personnel oversees all recruitment for government jobs. These are governed by universal guidelines that cut across ministries.
An official in the railway ministry, on condition of anonymity, said Prasad himself had written to the minister of minority affairs last month on a “4% reservation” for Muslims “across ministries”.
India has 150 million Muslims—the second highest in the world—and according to the Justice Rajinder Sachar committee that was set up by the Prime Minister to study social, economic and educational status of Muslims, few members of this minority community are employed by the government.
However, reservation is a tricky, sensitive and a highly political issue in India. A proposal by the Union government to create a 27% reservation for other backward classes (OBCs) in Central government-run institutions of higher education is currently before the Supreme Court.
The joint secretary in charge of such issues at the ministry of personnel did not deny receiving a letter from the Railway Board. “I am yet to look at that letter,” the official said on condition of anonymity. Prasad’s media adviser said the minister was unavailable for comment. And Railway Board chairman K.C. Jena did not answer or return phone calls.
According to a former Railway Board member, this is not the first time Prasad has considered a reservation for Muslims. He had checked with the board on this previously, said this official. “We explained to the minister that the proposal could not be implemented because there was no provision for it,” the person added.
The railways currently has a 27% reservation in jobs for OBCs, a classification of communities and castes considered underprivileged, and another 22.5% for people belonging to scheduled castes and scheduled tribes, more groups of underprivileged people recognized by the Constitution of the country.
“If we are to provide reservation now for Muslims or any other members of minority communities, then the ministry will have to cut back on the reservation quota extended to either of these two as no ministry can provide for more than 50% reservation,” said a railway officer.
Prasad’s efforts come after minister for minority affairs A.R. Antulay announced in Parliament on 31 August, a follow-up action on the recommendations of the Sachar committee. They have also come at a time when relations between the ruling United Progressive Alliance, of which Prasad’s Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) is a part, and the Left Front, a key ally, have soured over the Indo-US civilian nuclear pact—some political analysts have said that this could mean early general elections.
Jabir Husain, a former chairman of the Bihar state minorities commission and a Rajya Sabha member of RJD, said while Prasad’s idea was a good one, it would run into difficulty “the moment” someone tried to implement it.
“If Laluji’s ministry has proposed this, clearly there is a race to pander to the minorities. But this is not going to be implemented. You can’t have ministry-wise or department-wise reservations,” said Imran -Ur-Rehman Kidwai, chairman of the Congress party’s minority department.
Kidwai said there is already a Prime Minister’s 15-point programme which envisions bettering the lives of people who belong to minority communities. “Why propose just 4% if you have enough people to fill more jobs?” asked Kidwai. “The fact is, you won’t find enough Muslim candidates for several reserved jobs. The solution, therefore, is to create more capabilities among the Muslim youth. You can’t have a top-down approach.”