MYSURU: A century after erstwhile princely state of Mysuru made history with the then Maharaja Nalwadi Krishnaraja Wadiyar implementing a reservation policy as an affirmative action of social justice, brushing aside stiff opposition from top men in his administration, including Diwan Sir M Visvesaraya and protests from upper castes, the issue has raised a political and social storm again against the backdrop of the Supreme Court’s observation that reservation is not a fundamental right.
Sticking to his conviction and commitment to empowering the oppressed and marginalised classes, Nalwadi Krishnaraja Wadiyar had constituted a commission headed by Sir Leslie Miller on August 3, 1918 to provide caste-based reservation in jobs and education for the first time in the country. The revolutionary initiative — much before Periyar launched a movement and Dr BR Ambedkar enshrined it in the Constitution — had earned huge accolades for Wadiyar.
Heaping praise on the Maharaja, Mahatma Gandhi had termed him as a true ‘Rajarishi’ (saintly king).
Ironically, a century after the historic initiative, there are fresh debates in the wake of a recent Supreme Court observation that an individual cannot claim reservation as a fundamental right and that a government is not bound to provide quota in promotions for scheduled caste & scheduled tribe employees in public jobs.
While Dr Ambedkar, the architect of the Indian Constitution, pressed for reservation for 10 years, lawmakers continued it over the past 70 years, arguing that the objective of reservation to ensure fair representation for — and empowerment of — Dalits has not yet been achieved. As the debate is getting shriller for and against reservation for Dalits and extending it for promotions as well, demands for quota for many dominant and forward communities like Jats in Harayana, Gujjars in Rajasthan, Kammas in Andhra Pradesh and Marathas in Maharashtra have only complicated the matter.
Even as the Narendra Modi’s government announced a 10 per cent reservation for economically backward people among the upper castes, the demand for reservation in private sector and quota for Kannadigas in Karnataka is getting louder.
Karnataka witnessed quota stir in 1960 with the R Nagendragouda Committee classifying backward classes and recommending a 22 per cent reservation for backward classes, 15 per cent to scheduled castes (SCs) and three per cent for scheduled tribes (STs).
The state constituted commissions in 1972 and 1983 and then set up a permanent Backward Classes Commission. There were protests in 1983 against the non-inclusion of Lingayats, Vokkaliga, Marathas and Devangas in the list of backward classes.
Three decades later, there were a series of protests against the demotion of 3,793 Dalit employees which benefited 5,002 non-Dalits. Many government employees, on the other hand, took to the streets under the banner of Ahimsa, demanding that their interests be protected as they had no promotions for years. They charged that Dalits occupied key positions in various departments making use of reservation in promotions.
The Supreme Court ruling in the Uttarakhand case that reservation is not a fundamental right and the government is not bound to provide quota in promotion for the SC/ST employees has prompted political parties and Dalit organisations to hold protests, opening the issue for wide academic discussions. The court stated that Articles 16(A) and (4A) made it clear that inadequacy of representation is a matter within the subjective satisfaction of the state to make reservation in matters of appointments and promotion in favour of SC/STs. If they are not adequately represented, then the states have to decide whether reservation is required for public posts.
No seniority list
There are apprehensions that states may take shelter under the Supreme Court ruling and may deny the benefits of reservation to deserving people.As many as 3,793 officers, including 473 engineers, were demoted after the Supreme Court ruling in Pavithra case. Despite a legislation and directions to reinstate them to their original positions before June 15, 2019, the demoted engineers and those in the Animal Husbandry Department are yet to be reinstated.
SC/ST Officers’ Association’s legal advisor Chandrashekaraiah says they are knocking on the doors of the government as 22 departments have not prepared seniority list of officials, affecting the prospects of 65,000 employees. “We have called for a meeting to discuss the issue,” he adds.
Former advocate general Ravivarma Kumar feels that when the Supreme Court lays down a law, it becomes a binding law of the land. He feels that the SC judgment has given a licence to state governments to take a call on reservation. “Fortunately, there is a legislation made during the Siddaramaiah government (in Karnataka) that not only mandates reservation, but also seniority for SC/ST employees”, he asserts.
Former High Court judge N Nagamohan Das says, “The ruling is not in accordance with the ideals of the Constitution. The Constitution says reservation is not mercy or charity, but is a right guaranteed by it, which has become a human right today. The only solution to the issue is rescinding of the 77th amendment in Parliament for reservation in promotions for SC/STs and make it a fundamental right.”
Former chief minister Siddaramaiah feels BJP-ruled states may take advantage of the Supreme Court verdict and deny promotions to SC/STs. “I believe in the courts. (But) I don’t trust the BJP Government,” he says. The AHINDA leader wants the Union Government to appeal against the ruling before a larger bench of the Supreme Court.
Former advocate general B V Acharya feels there is no threat to reservation or reservation in promotions as it all depends on state governments. He opines that the Supreme Court judgment means no private party or individual has a vested right to ask the court to give directions on quota as it is for the state to provide reservation in promotion, provided there is no adequate representation and that efficiency is not affected. Former advocate general Uday Holla rules out immediate impact on reservation as the government alone can take a call on policies and make rules and regulations.
Ahimsa writ petition pending
The SC judgment on reservation has not brought respite to Ahimsa, an organisation of non-SC/ST employees which is against reservation in promotions. Its President Nagaraj says the Supreme Court ruling is for Uttarakhand. Karnataka has brought in a legislation. But its review petition challenging the apex court ruling upholding Karnataka’s law is pending before the court.
‘Make it a fundamental right’
Prof Basavaraju, Director, School of Law, Mysore University, says reservation is an enabling provision under Articles 16(4) and 15 (4) of the Constitution and it should be considered an integral part of fundamental rights. He feels the enabling provisions are not equal to fundamental rights and can be withdrawn. It has to be made part of fundamental rights, he opines.
The Congress party which wants to take to the streets to build pressure on the Centre to file a review petition in SC against its ruling points out the 77th Constitutional Amendment and the introduction of the Article 16(A) allowing states to provide reservation to SC/STs in promotions as long as states believe that they (SC/STs) are not adequately represented. However, it was the Congress’ Harish Rawat government in Uttarakhand which adopted the recommendations of a committee on reservation that ultimately led to the Supreme Court ruling. But former MP V S Ugrappa feels the SC judgment would impact SC/STs, BCs and those coming under 10 per cent quota for upper castes.