Radhieka Mittal and Cooshalle Samuel, May 1, 2006, Hindustan Times
Recently members of ‘Students for Equality’ have been braving water cannons and lathicharges to draw attention to the fact that if reservation for the OBC, women and the minorities is enacted, then the number of seats available for the general category would go down to a meagre 18 per cent.
Currently, under Article 15(4) of the Constitution, the government allows reservation of 22.5 per cent (15 per cent for the SCs and 7.5 per cent for the STs) in various undergraduate and graduate courses. But the gross underutilisation of these existing quotas has reduced them to mere lip service.
Two IIT-B professors exposed the extent of the problem way back in 1992. Their study on the 1989-1992 batch of IIT students found that less than half the official quota was being ‘filled’ with SC/ST students, who constituted a mere 10.49 per cent of the total IIT strength at that time. In 2001, IIT Madras made news when a survey uncovered that the institute was filling only 6.3 per cent of the seats reserved for the SCs.
The same indifference appears in the implementation of various government programmes. For example, despite funds for Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan being doubled in the last two-years, the proportion of SC/ST enrollment continues to lag miserably. A recent survey conducted by Education Consultants India Ltd noted that the OBC dropout rate in the 6-13 age group was 6.9 per cent, much less than the percentage of dropouts among SCs (8.17) and STs (9.54).
Similarly, the Centrally Sponsored Coaching scheme benefited 5080 students by increasing the enrollment of SC s in engineering education from 5.3 per cent in 1978 to 15.2 per cent in 2001. But the under utilisation of their quotas made their enrollment dismally low when compared to the general category (78.9%). A 2004 FICCI study shows that in vocational training, the number of vacant seats reserved for the SC/ST candidates was as high as 81 and 95 per cent, respectively.
Clearly, the rising numbers of vacant seats in educational and training institutions is a grim reminder that on one hand the system is conspiring against the backward students while on the other there is no way to enforce the constitutional provision with penalties for the erring officials. The policy can only make a lasting difference if it is implemented honestly and where participatory systems are built.
Jawaharlal Nehru University has a unique system of awarding deprivation points to OBCs and all other candidates. OBC men and women candidates are eligible for 10 and 5 points, respectively. The university also prepares a list of districts based on parameters like literacy, agricultural productivity, etc. Candidates hailing from such districts are granted up to 5 points. The system may not be perfect but shows how much can be done, and how simply.