Supreme Court on Friday issued notice agreeing to examine the constitutional validity of the 10 per cent reservation to the Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) in general category. It refused to stay the reservation immediately.
The Centre will have to respond to the notice in four weeks.
PS Krishnan speaks to Express about his take on the issue and explains that reservation was not introduced as a measure to alleviate poverty but provide social justice for centuries of harm done by the caste system. Excerpts from the interview:
Q: You played an important role in introducing reservation for the Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEdBC). Why did you not include economic backwardness under the same umbrella?
The Constitution makers were deeply concerned with the harm done by centuries of discrimination under the caste system. Reservation was a measure introduced to remedy the social inequality that was subsequent from that system. In the caste system, a group of individuals were discriminated for no fault of theirs.
They were systemically oppressed by this hierarchy, and the Constitution makes reasonable accommodation for them through the reservation. Economic backwardness is not a collective disability; it is the individual’s incapacity to rise above poverty. It is the inability of a poor individual from a socially advanced class. Reservation cannot alleviate poverty or unemployment.
Q: Are economically backward people not eligible to benefit from welfare schemes then?
It is the government’s responsibility to empower economically weaker sections of the population as well. But reservation is not the solution for it. You cannot treat tuberculosis with typhoid medication. Offering scholarships, financial grants and housing will help alleviate poverty. Creating jobs and holding skill development programmes will combat unemployment.
Economic equality and social equality cannot be equated to one another, and the reservation was not designed to solve the problem of poverty.
Q: What is the justification for having reservations to combat caste system alone?
People were not classified as Scheduled Castes or Scheduled Tribes based on economic backwardness. All group of individuals who were victims of untouchability due to the caste system were clubbed together as Scheduled Castes.
Ethnically different people who lived in remote areas with limited access to opportunities were grouped as Scheduled Tribes. Others who were discriminated based on the traditional job they did, and whose children’s lives and chances were affected by that profession thereof were called Backward Castes. The problem to people in these groups was access to opportunities. So the remedy was to guarantee access.
Q: What is your response to the argument that purely caste-based reservation will curb merit?
Reservation does not curb merit. In fact, it helps identify meritorious individuals from socially discriminated groups. By giving equal access, you are providing a wider stage for meritorious individuals to showcase their strengths.
If you are talking about the effect of reservation on the efficiency of the government, you have to note that the Constitution does not allow for reservation to exceed 50 per cent. The other 50 per cent is currently devoid of any reservation. It is into this, the Centre is infringing by introducing the EWS quota.
Q: What are the other impacts of cutting into unreserved 50 per cent?
Although a majority of the unreserved seats are used by upper caste individuals, people from lower caste are still eligible to compete for those seats. But, by allocating a 10 per cent for EWS who do not belong to Backward Castes, the government will essentially bar lower caste individual’s right to contest for the 10 per cent. To combat the caste system, a vertical reservation system was introduced.
We identified the most discriminated groups in the hierarchy and provided reservations for those who needed social justice. For women and people with physical and mental disabilities, we use a horizontal reservation system, that cuts across all castes. But this 10 per cent quota is neither vertical nor horizontal. It is not accessible to individuals from all castes and prevents people from lower castes to contest for it.
Q: If reservation is designed to bring about social justice, how do we quantify or measure the success of the system?
Taking a detailed look into nation-wide surveys such as Census, NSSO, NFHS, among others will give us the quantifiable data we need. All surveys show that most agricultural labourers are from Scheduled Castes and Tribes, while land-owners are from upper castes.
Parameters like literacy, Infant Mortality Rate, Neonatal Mortality Rate, and malnutrition can be used as indicators for social justice. When the gaps in these parameters become smaller between upper and lower caste individuals, we know that we are closer to achieving social justice.