As the impasse continues on the issue of reservations, the Group of Ministers appointed to deal with the issue has forwarded its report to the Prime Minister. Much as it is expected of the political class, the GOM has favored implementation of the quota for the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) ‘as soon as possible’ and concomitantly recommended an increase in seats in elite educational institutions. Given the complexity of the issue as also the sensitive nature of the problem involved, the formula of the GOM appears to be fair i.e. implement the quota for the (OBCs) and at the same time increase the number of seats in a phased manner so that general category seats are not reduced. By taking away (the quota) with one hand, the government is giving back (the seats) to the general category with the other. The only problem in the GOM formula is how long it will take to increase the number of seats and to put in place the institutions required to absorb the new quota. The government should therefore first of all spell out more clearly on how it proposes to implement this formula before expecting any assurance from the striking students.
Also, the issue that needs to be debated is whether such a proposal has a clear objective in mind. Reservation per se should not be the issue as the process has been given legitimacy by the constitution. However, the question of how much, for whom and for how long remains a matter of contention. Further there is disquiet over the fact that the vehicle of reservation has been driven for political ends and in the process has lost its direction. The social and economic objective that it was meant to address in the first place remains unfulfilled. As things stand, 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 such even without the present controversy, a review is needed on how the quota system has functioned over the last few decades.
As a matter of policy, the government should therefore make a serious effort to make the present reservation system more rational, scientific and effective for it to become a viable tool of social change. Reservation policies have no doubt produced substantial redistributive effects. However, this has not been spread evenly through the beneficiary groups. There is evidence of substantial clustering in the utilization of these opportunities mostly as a result of structural factors. The better situated among the beneficiaries enjoy a disproportionate share of programme benefits.
Ultimately it has to be borne in mind that an egalitarian social order cannot be built by mere policies, promises and pious hopes. Reservation as such can only give a helping hand. The roots of inequality have to be found in the social and economic structure and it is these structures that have to be transformed. The government should therefore realize that reservation cannot be the total solution but rather it should formulate a mix of economic and social measures to bring about equity in society. As such, the demand for a complete review of the reservation policy by a non-political committee as made by the protesting students needs to be considered by the government. Such as review as opposed to the GOM report should undertake a more in-depth study of the entire gamut of issues related to reservation policy of the government of India.