India’s Constitution (drafted by Dr. Ambedkar himself) provided for reservation of seats in legislatures and other areas for an initial period of 10 years in order to help the backward classes, such as the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, and provided them with adequate opportunities for development. Several extensions of this 10 year period have since been made, and if the current trends are nay guide, the policy of reservation is likely to continue indefinitely, though the extensions are likely to announced from time to time for a decade each time and not or a longer period. The latest announcement in this regard was made by Late Prime Minster, Rajiv Gandhi, on April 14, 1989, at Lucknow, while laying the foundation stone of Ambedkar University.
The political compulsions apart, fact remains, as the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, himself confirmed, that the scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes are still backward, both economically and otherwise. They need to be uplifted and require reservations for a longer period. With this end in view more powers were granted to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Commission; there was also the appointment of a Secretary or legal officer to monitor the progress made in this direction in various departments, Government officers, found indulging in irregularities or becoming tardy in the implementation of the policy aimed at ameliorating the condition of Harijans and other weaker sections of society, were to be taken to task.
To policy of reservations was designed with the best of intentions and for the exclusive benefit of the backward sections of Indian society. The tragedy is there-fold. First, many undeserving people have derived substantial benefits while the deserving have remained without any aid. Secondly several politicians, including those in power, have made reservations for the backward people their “Vote Bank”, an instrument for winning votes at election time. Thirdly caste passions are aroused every now and then by self-seeking people, for ulterior ends. These conflicts often lead to bloody clashes, noisy, violent demonstrations and occasional disruption of administrative machinery.
There is also the implicit problem of injustice to lakhs of talented young men and women who are denied their legitimate rights of jobs because candidates bearing the Scheduled Caste label are accommodated even though they are not so well qualified. Every few years there is a flare up in some state or the other or fresh alliances are reached at and measures chalked out to seek more and more enlargements of the lists of backward categories. This then leads to anti-reservation riots and violence. Thus vested interests have developed in “Backwardness”, resulting in major distortions in policy farming and implementation.
Several sociologist and scholars have expressed the view that reservations are the results of widespread realization that economic growth with social justice is not possible without such reservations. The atrocities still being practiced in the rural areas of states, such as Bihar, are barbaric and they must be put an end to at the earliest. In fact, atrocities or Harijan men and women are an almost every day occurrence in a number of States, and no effective steps have so far been taken to put an end to such brutality. Hence arises the need for reservations.
Mandal Commission’s report is to be judged against this background. It supported to continuation of caste based reservations and identified over “140 backward classes” comprising 52 percent of the population. Individual’s states were to identify more such classes in each state. As a result, the total of such backward classes reached a very high figure.
The main recommendations of the Mandal Commission are, First that there should be reservations to the extent of 27 percent in Central and State Government services, public sector undertakings and educational institutions, both Hindu and non-Hindu, which have been grouped under the category of “backward classes”. Secondly, the Mandal Commission placed the reservation at a lower level than could be justified because of the Supreme Court’s ruling that the total reservation should in no case exceed 50 percent so as not to violate the provisions of Article 15 (4) and Article 16 (4) of the Constitution. Thirdly, since the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes already enjoyed statutory reservations for the backward classes of all categories even for promotional quotes. In addiction to this, Mandal Commission recommended the formation of a separate Ministry for Backward Classes at the Centre and in the States. Politically motivated decision to enhance the quote of reservation in certain States led to widespread disturbances. The anti-reservation agitation in Gujarat illustrates the point and clearly highlights the reaction of those who are affected by such reservations.
Late Shri Rajiv Gandhi’s Government had advised all State Governments not to take any decision on the reservation issue until a national consensus was arrived at. This should also have been done by the Governments which followed. But this was not done. The violence which followed was of such intensity that the government could not control it. There was a spate of self-immolations in different parts of the country. There were violent clashes between the pro-reservationists and anti-reservationists.
However, all controversy in this respect has been set at rest by the recent Supreme Court judgment which has been, with few exceptions universally welcomed. The Apex court has very wisely excluded “the creamy layer” from the scope of reservations. Thus the well to do i.e. the second and third generations among the backward classes will not longer be entitled to the reservation. The benefit of Reservation in promotions has been totally abolished. Thus a long-standing grievance of the forward classes has been done away with. Now one can enjoy the benefit of reservation only for entering service or for getting admissions in educational institutions, but not for securing promotions. Total reservation both at the centre and state levels is not to exceed 50%. A period of five years has been stipulated for further identifying “backward classes” in the states in which such identification yet incomplete. The suggestion for 10% reservation for the economically poor in the forward classes could not be accepted as there is not provision in the Indian constitution fro reservation on economic ground.
It is a sane and balanced judgment which should satisfy both the pro-reservationists and anti-reservationists. The controversy should now come to an end for good.