Is reservation compulsory?

  • Jul 09, 2024
Is reservation compulsory?

Is Reservation Compulsory?

The issue of reservation has become sensitive and a subject of debate in India. It was introduced after independence to give a boost to social justice to the excluded groups like the SCs, STs, and OBCs by providing quotas for them in educational institutions government services, or even in the legislatures. It is not mandatory to reserve any particular post for a community under the Indian constitution but the state has been given the authority to make special provisions for the upliftment of these sections of society. Decentralisation of the reservation system has occurred over the decades with more groups being granted this privilege and the subject of this policy has remained topical for decades.

Constitutional Provisions For Reservation

The Indian constitution provides certain rights in Articles 15(4) and 16(4), which enable the state to provide special measures for the SCs, STs, and OBCs in the field of education and the employment sector respectively. While the Constitution does not make such reservations mandatory, it deems them optional but grants this authority to the state. The Supreme Court has also informed that these constitutional provisions are facilitative and not mandatory in the strict sense. Therefore, reservation, in legal terms, is not a requirement.

However, over the years, many enabling provisions have been made by the successive central and state governments and they have come up with reservation quotas. There are set percentages reserved for the SCs, STs, and OBCs for employment in government organizations and also in jobs, in the seats in public educational institutions, and even in the elected seats in the legislature. For instance, SCs are given 15% and 7. 5% of jobs in the central government while STs and OBC are given 27% of jobs in the central government. Likewise, there are set specific reservations in the employment with state governments and public institutions and universities.

Hence, while reservation is not made mandatory or compulsory through the constitution, for all the years, government policies have made reservation more or less compulsory in public sector undertakings and educational institutions.

Reasons for making reservation binding include the following:

Those advocating for a mandatory reservation for minorities provide both normative and positive reasons. They argue that these groups of people have been regressed for centuries due to social injustices they have been subjected to. Employment quotas set aside for universities are a form of essential affirmative action to improve these communities. They note that if the reservation is made voluntarily, there is no way that the above groups can be assured a proper representation.

For instance, Under the Tamil Nadu Act 47, 2007 there is a different provision on the reservation policy with a 69% quota for education and employment in the state. This is to guarantee the adequate representation of the backward communities. But reservation quotas when not protected or accompanied by binding provisions can easily be diluted and done away with. According to them, the only way to protect the interests of those vulnerable sections of society is to make it mandatory.

Issues With Compulsory Reservation

But, as it has been seen there is merit in the case for non-binding reservation as well. In extreme cases, it may result in unfairness or inefficiency of business operations to be conducted under compulsory reservation. Sometimes, when the quota proportions are set very high, deserving candidates in the open categories are altogether omitted to give way to less merited candidates in the reserved categories. This champions efficiency and compounds inter-community conflict.

High quotas of reservation also lead to the problem of a creamy layer under which the literate and the wealthy among the reserved categories avail the reservation policy. This seems to contradict the intention of assisting only the desperate sections of society. It exposes caste politics also since every group tries to be labeled as backward to be reserved. Therefore it is more reasonable to make it optional as per the situation on the ground.

The Way Forward

However, it is also possible to make fairly convincing arguments for the mandatory call. The Indian constitution has, therefore, taken a balanced approach of not setting any rigidity on the percentage of quotas. Instead, it has delegated the responsibility of coming up with proportions to governments depending on available statistics. The Supreme Court has further limited this by saying that reservations should not go beyond 50% leaving room for merit and competency-based offers of scholarships and employment opportunities.

Maybe the best way to proceed in the future is to make reservations non-mandatory, however, it should aim to achieve a greater level of adequacy by enhancing accessibility. The best way to impose quotas on the existing percentage is to create more institutions and jobs where the opportunity to represent those disadvantaged groups can be provided. That will reduce the tension whereby addressing merit and inclusion is a central concern in colleges and universities. However, the debate of mandatory versus voluntary reservation is expected to go on due to the multifaceted nature of the social structure in India.

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