As the dispute over reservations hits the front pages, is there a case for reservations or do the facts suggests otherwise? This week, a series of articles on the front page of the Business Standard have thrown a spanner into the reservations debate. So far, it has been assume that SCs, STs and OBCs have not got their fair share in employment and there are good reasons for reservations.
But do the facts support this or is reality different to what we actually think? That is what the Business Standard article seems to suggest. But just how accurate are they? Author of the article Surjit Bhalla is an economist and to argue against him is Praful Bidwai, a columnist. Here's how their conversation went…
Excerpts from an interview given to CNBC-TV18
A columnist, Praful Bidwai:
Q: On what grounds do you believe that reservation in the industry for the weaker section is justified?
A: We live in a completely, terribly hierarchal society where there is a huge amount of fast discrimination that a lot of people face, unless they get true equalative opportunity through affirmative action. They will not have access to jobs, they will not be able to compete, they will not be able to develop their human potential nor will industry be able to tap their talent. That is why we need affirmative action.
Q: By affirmative action do you mean reservations?
A: Reservations are one form of action but they are also a very effective form. I think that the SC, ST reservation experience validates the propositions that I just made. In this society, you need strong affirmative action.
Q: Would you restrict reservations to SC, STs in industry or would you extend it to cover the OBCs as well?
A: We have to do it in stages depending upon the industry�s willingness and ability. Basically I would extend them to OBCs very strongly.
Q: Do you accept that infact there is confusion over the precise quantum of OBCs and the proportion and the population that they are and therefore, before we consider the question of reservations for them, we have to carry out the survey to establish how many they are?
A: I accept the idea that we need to have some clarity about the numbers. I think Mandal produced a pretty reasonable estimate based on number of state surveys or number of descriptions of castes.
Q: So you are saying the NSSO figure, which is 32.1% is actually questionable in your eyes? Mandal is what you go by?
A: Absolutely, I would go by the Mandal because the NSSO has absolutely no competence. You need sociologists, you need labour economists, you need anthropologists to tell you which caste belongs to the OBCs and which doesn�t.
Q: We are talking about Mr Bhalla�s finding based on NSSO data, that in terms of their share of employment nationwide the SC/STs and OBC have a share that is identical to their share of the population?
A: I find this intuitively very difficult to accept. He sights a figure of 28.5% as the SC/ST population. We know that the figure is closer to 23% it is a huge difference. For NSSO, this is a professional, statistical organization of the government and this number is hugely different. That is not the issue – the issue is the figure seems to me to be questionable in the first place. Second, we know from empirical experience that the SC/STs and OBCs are poorly represented especially in the professions, in the better-paid jobs, in the judiciary so on and so forth.
Economist, Surjit Bhalla
Q: When it comes to reservations to OBCs, I believe that long before you came to contest the case, you actually asked a primary question first, which is do we know what proportion of the overall Indian population is actually OBC. Why do you believe that we don�t have a clear idea?
A: Very simply, the entire debate, the entire law tells you about how policy is made in this country. On OBCs, a fictitious number was generated by the Mandal Commission. Why do I say this is fictitious? Because they came out with the number called 52% or 51% of the entire population was OBCs. We all know that in these numbers 1% or 2% points could go either way. The one national survey and indeed two national surveys conducted in 1998-99 suggested that the number is very close to about 33%, if you exclude Muslims and 36% if you include them.
Q: In other words the Mandal could be wrong by as much as a margin of 20%?
Q: Why do you support NSSO and not Mandal?
A: How do the NSS get the numbers on the OBCs? They obtained caste lists for each of the individual states in the country, as to who was an OBC and who was not an OBC. In their survey therefore, they matched against the many states that had given them the numbers and the names as to who belongs to the OBC caste and who did not. Second, the Mandal commission, which everybody else forgets was very particular that this had very little to do with caste and really has to do with social and economic backwardness.
Q: Your core argument in the Business Standard article is that, the reservation of SC/ST/OBC is already proportional to their share in the population, and therefore there is no need for reservations for them. What facts do you base that on?
A: If there is anybody that needs affirmative action and not reservations, it is the Muslims. How do you get these numbers? In the NSSO data, you have who is an OBC or SC/ST, so we now their proportion of population.
Let us take SC/STs and their proportion of the population is 28.3% according to NSS but according to the Census, it is somewhat lower. What is proportional in terms of jobs – 30.6% or so?
Q: The NSSO also shows that with regard to OBCs, and even when you look at different categories of employment, the share of OBCs whether it is in the professional class at the high end or agricultural at the low end, it is once again identical to the share of the population.
A: Absolutely and indeed one step further, if you look at good jobs which is ultimately about quality and opportunity. Good jobs are available and I want to distinguish on what society has done prior to high school and what society can do post-high school. So we take jobs that high school graduates are eligible for – professional, technical, managerial etc then you will find that the SC/ST and the OBCs have a higher share of those jobs than those that are actually qualified for those jobs!
Q: Leave OBC and come to SC/STs because there is a significant shortfall particularly at the upper end of jobs between the SC/ST share of the population and their share of jobs. In fact, it is 40%-50%. So with specific regards to SC/ST would you say that a shortfall justifies reservations?
A: Absolutely not but the fact is correct. The fact that 24%-28% SC/STs of the population hold 14.3% of good jobs is absolutely right. How do we get good jobs? We get good jobs by education. We do not get good jobs by reservation. What Mr Bidwai is failing to recognize is that if the SC/STs and the OBCs are around 75% of the population, according to his own figures, then not everybody can hire a Brahmin – there are four hundred million jobs. How many Brahmins are there? Get real.
Q: If reservations are necessary to make up the shortfall, then those reservations are not needed in employment but actually in education, would you accept that?
Bidwai: They are qualified, it is a question of creating conditions under which they can compete better.
Q: But if the percentage share of employment is below the share of population, then they can't be adequately qualified as a community.
Bidwai: The fact is that for centuries, billions of people in this country have been denied opportunities and they have not been able to develop elementary human potential. One has to give them
a level playing field. One should create a comprehensive level palying field at all levels – from child nutrition to education.
SIO hails reservation for OBCs
0 May 2006, PTI
Jaipur, May 9: The central government's proposal to introduce 27 per cent reservation for OBCs in institutions of higher learning was welcomed today by the Students Islamic Organisation (SIO).
Zameer Qadri, president of SIO, said in a statement here that this was a right step forward to uplift socially and economically backdward sections of society.
Expressing deep concern at the high dropout rate among socially and economically backward communities, Qadri urged the government to ensure access to quality education for all students, irrespective of their social and economic conditions, and to make sure that no one remained illiterate due to lack of finances.