On Job Reservation among Nagas

Reservation in the Naga context is now an accepted policy given the imbalance in tribal development. There is consensus on the need to continue with the reservation policy although contentions may arise in the duration, design and formulation. The demand for reservation is therefore both legitimate and a social necessity. In the last few years, the Government of Nagaland has come out with a separate 25% job reservation for the backward tribe of Eastern Nagaland while the remaining 8% was shared among the other backward tribe consisting of Chakhesang, Zeliang and Pochury. Now the government has once again decided to modify the existing quota for the backward tribes. The existing 25% reservation for Eastern Nagaland will continue while the reservation for the other three backward tribes has been enhanced from the existing 8% to 10%. This will be shared in the following proportion viz: Chakhesang will get 4%, Zeliang 4% and Pochury 2%. It is another matter that the Pochury people are not happy with this latest formula as they feel that the 2% is ‘meager’ out of the total 37%. Further, there will be new reservation of 2% for the Sumi tribes of Kiphire district.
This latest policy decision was made following a Cabinet meeting held on February 17, 2011. As per the extracts of the Cabinet meeting which was released to the local media, the meeting discussed the reports of various committees on job reservation in the State of Nagaland. However whether the decision to modify the quota system was recommended by the committees or it was a political call, no one knows for sure unless the report of the Committee on job reservation is made public. This becomes important to know because now the Pochuris are also alleging that the decision on the new quota was taken without taking into consideration the “applied criteria that determines backwardness”. The government should not hesitate to put out the job reservation report in the public domain. The experience of reservation policy in a country like India has often been one of indulgence in quota politics and competitive populism.
While reservation is a necessary evil, the issue that needs to be debated is whether our government’s policy on job reservation has a clear objective. On the other side of the debate is the question on whether it is desirable to open the floodgates of quota politics in an age of global competitiveness. Today, young people in general are becoming increasingly bitter over the prospect of having to be discriminated against. This could also be the reason as to why such disgruntled youths are seeking better opportunities abroad. It is also being argued that reservation has generated a tendency to suppress the inherent capability of the individual and that it will adversely bring down the efficiency of the system. There is some truth in such arguments as it makes people complacent. The quota system also views the individual as passive recipients rather than active participants in the development process.
Our reservation policy has been there for some time now. But close scrutiny suggests significant distortions in its implementation. Rather than helping the poorest of the poor, reservation is seen as benefiting the better off among these sections resulting in the formation of a separate elite class who usurp most benefits. The experience in India is also a case of how benefits of reservation has been hijacked by powerful caste lobbies and concomitantly the policy has been effectively used as a tool of vote bank politics by politicians instead of it being mobilized as a tool of social justice. As a matter of policy, the Nagaland government, while continuing with the reservation policy, should work out ways to make the present reservation system more rational, scientific and effective for it to become a viable tool of social change and in order that the real benefits are passed on to those for whom it is meant.