7th January 2019 was a golden day for the millions of Indians who breathed a sigh of hope as the Lok Sabha of India approved a constitutional amendment bill that provides 10% reservation for the economically backward sections in the general category. The Modi government sought support from all political parties for the 124th constitution amendment bill of 2019.
Three hundred and twenty-three Loksabha members voted in support for the bill whereas only three members voted against it. The Prime minister of India, Sri Narendra Modi congratulated the members of the parliament and echoed the slogan ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikaas’, which encourages growth and prosperity on Indian soil through teamwork, irrespective of caste and creed.
A glimpse of India’s reservation system
The age-old Indian caste system was born out of the ‘Varna System’ and existed for several centuries. People of all communities were categorized into ‘Varnas’ or castes, based on their skills & abilities. These communities worked efficiently and harmoniously under the leadership of noble kings. However, with time, power and contempt invaded several socio-economic idiosyncrasies which led to the neglection of some sections of the society that were distanced from growth and empowerment opportunities. This gave birth to the modern ‘reservation’ system as we know it.
Many instances of reservation have been recorded historically. In 1902, the non-Brahmin and backward classes were given reservation in one of the princely states of India, and in 1909, reservations by the British-Raj through the government of India Act became a common phenomenon.
However, the post-independence era of the Indian political fabric witnessed the birth of mass-reservations based on castes. Ever since Castes have been the major underpinning or the ‘bottleneck’ of the Indian polity for more than 70 years. The Indian communities that include the scheduled castes (SC), the scheduled tribes (ST) and the other backward classes (OBC), who were once neglected from the social fabric centuries ago, have clinched the right to power & privileges spanning across education, employment and politics.
Where is India heading with reservations?
With the growth of education and technological advancement, India has produced a large population of candidates who are highly talented, capable and professionally qualified but are economically downtrodden and denied employment in government offices due to loop-holes and practical technicalities.
The 10% reservation bill of the 124th Constitution amendment bill is a historic move as it is the first time that ‘caste’ is not the criterion for reservation. Amending articles 15 and 16 of the Indian constitution related to discrimination and equalizing opportunity, it is proposed that the reservation enjoyed by the SC’s, ST’s and OBC’s at 50% be taken to 60% after the amendment.
The unanswered questions
In 1992, the Supreme Court of India set a maximum cap on the reservation quota at 50%. In order to pass the current amendment, either this cap needs to be revised or this bill needs to get an exception. There are several technicalities and questions that must be addressed before we can see this bill implemented.
Most of the quotas and caps factored in the reservation system were formed based on the census data acquired in 1931. States like Tamil Nadu, that defer the upper limit quota have independently formed their own criterions for reservations. While some leaders in the opposition refer to this amendment as nothing more than a ‘jumla‘ gimmick for the upcoming 2019 elections, every initiative in the eyes of the public is camouflaged by uncertainty and fractured by vote-bank politics.
India is a dynamic mix of several castes and communities. It is a relentless effort to evaluate the perfect benchmark percentage for reservations that suffices to be both progressive and fair. How inclusive is the 50% quota for the current economic fiasco? Who sets the benchmark? Who can make this a reality?
While the bill has been passed without any major obstructions, it is also being speculated that the motion was passed by the ruling government to attract voters and was unopposed by the opposition amidst fears of losing potential votes ahead of the 2019 elections.
The extent to which this quota is practically implementable in the demographic environment of India is in the hands of all those bureaucrats on central and state level that will design and oversee this operation. While it undoubtedly benefits the economically backward population in the short-term, only time will test its sustainability in the long term.
Sources : Loksabha, India Census, TOI, ET
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