By S S GILL
[The writer is a former secretary, Mandal Commission.]
In view of the confusion created by Mandal II, the Supreme Court has asked the government to clarify two things: One, what is the basis for determining who belongs to an OBC category; and two, the rationale behind 27 per cent reservation for OBCs. These two points need to be immediately cleared.
OBCs belong to the shudra category in the caste classification. Several people confuse shudras with Dalits (earlier known as untouchables). OBCs were supposed to be people who lived by their physical labour.
Though not treated as untouchables, they formed the largest segment of low castes and suffered from all sorts of social disabilities. That is why they qualify to be categorised as socially and educationally backward, and thus entitled to affirmative action under the Constitution.
As to their identification, the Mandal Commission undertook the biggest social survey ever attempted in this country. To begin with, an experts' panel under the chairmanship of eminent sociologist M N Srinivas and 14 other social scientists was formed to devise schedules for identification of OBCs.
Simultaneously, Delhi University held a seminar for a thorough discussion of the terms of reference of the commission. After several meetings, the experts' panel prepared four comprehensive schedules, two each for rural and urban areas.
All the state governments were sent these schedules for conducting the survey. Two villages and one urban block were selected at random in each and every district of the country, and all the residents of these areas were covered by the survey.
Questionnaires were also sent to all the states and 30 ministries of the central government, and notices published in national dailies and regional papers inviting public response.
The data thus collected was passed on to the National Informatics Centre, which analysed the information contained in the four pre-coded schedules.
The results of this analysis were used by the experts' panel, which derived 11 indicators of social, educational and economic backwardness. It was by the application of these indicators that OBCs were identified.
As to the number of OBCs and their percentage, government had stopped collecting caste-wise enumeration of population after the 1931 census.
Consequently, the population of various OBCs identified by the commission were culled from this census, and extrapola-ted on the basis of population growth trends over this period.
That is how the percentage of OBCs was arrived at, and it worked out to 52 per cent. When the 11 indicators were applied to identify OBCs, 44 per cent happened to be Hindus and 8 per cent were from other religions.
That shows how authentic the indicators were as it picked up a fair number of non-Hindus who were socially and educationally backward.
Some commentators have pointed out that the National Sample Survey Organisation's investigations show that OBCs constitute 32 per cent of the population, and National Family Health Survey places the figure at 30 per cent.
These two surveys cannot match the span and depth of Mandal Commission's investigations, and its findings can be revised only if an exercise of the same magnitude is attempted.
It has also been pointed out that 25-50 per cent of the reserved seats remain vacant for lack of qualified OBC candidates, resulting in a colossal waste of resources. This is true, but it is the result of sloppy and unplanned implementation.
The commission had laid great emphasis on creating suitable infrastructure in institutions to enable OBC candidates to derive full advantage from reservation. This required adequate planning and financial commitment. But as in 1990, the issue is again at present being treated purely as a vote-getting ploy.
The government is now dangling the carrot of proportionately increased seats in professional institutions to obviate any shrinkage in the 'merit' quota, as if the additional infrastructure can be created by waving a magic wand.
The current turmoil could have been averted if educationists had been taken into confidence, a sober assessment made of available capacities and a phased scheme of implementation prepared for a smooth transition.