11th JANUARY 2019
GS II: SOCIAL
Q1. Discuss the drawbacks of the recently passed Constitution (124th Amendment) Bill, 2019, creating a 10% quota for the economically weaker sections (EWS).
Given the deep inequalities prevalent in access to education and jobs based on caste and socio-economic status, affirmative action (or positive discrimination) makes a lot of sense. However, the system that was put in place during the early years of the Republic deserves serious re-evaluation in an era when technology has paved the way for deploying a better equipped arsenal. Here is an evaluation of the potential implications of the EWS quota Bill:
- The Bill promises 10% reservation to individuals classified as economically backward. However, while a number of criteria were discussed in the parliamentary debate, the Bill is quite silent on this. Assuming that among the criteria discussed in Parliament, those that are currently applied to the definition of the Other Backward Classes (OBC) creamy layer are the ones to be used, it is not clear how useful they would be. While the OBC creamy layer has been created to exclude people who are clearly well off, the EWS quota, in contrast, is expected to focus on the poor. One of the criteria — the income threshold of ₹8 lakh per annum — has been mentioned. The National Sample Survey (NSS) of 2011-12 shows that the annual per capita expenditure for 99% of households falls under this threshold, even when we take inflation into account. Similarly, as per the India Human Development Survey (IHDS), the annual household incomes of 98% of households are less than ₹8 lakh. Even if we apply all the other criteria for exclusion (e.g. amount of land owned and size of home), the Bill would still cover over 95% of the households.
- While the benefits of the EWS quota are likely to be minimal, the cost may be higher than one anticipates. First, it is important to remember that general category jobs are open to everyone, including Scheduled Caste (SC), Scheduled Tribe (ST) and OBC individuals. Thus, by removing 10% jobs from the “open” category, it reduces the opportunities for currently reserved groups. This may be particularly problematic for OBCs since OBC reservation is limited to 27% of the seats whereas the OBC population is at least 40% of the population, possibly more. Thus, this move is almost certain to result in calls for greater OBC reservation, particularly if a constitutional amendment to increase the proportion of reserved seats from 50% to 60% is already being adopted.
- Second, actual implementation of the EWS quota could be challenging. Few non-SC/ST/OBC individuals have a caste certificate. A large number of SC/ST/OBC households report difficulties in obtaining these certificates. How would an individual practically lay claim to this status?
- Third, in an era when skill demands are rapidly outpacing supply of candidates in specialised fields, the EWS quota increases the constraints. If a university advertises for an associate professor for quantum physics under the EWS quota and the only suitable candidate happens to be from an OBC category, she could not be hired. These challenges occur for all positions under specifically reserved categories and we have chosen to live with these difficulties in the interest of the greater good of equity. However, there is little benefit to be derived from the EWS quota.
- Arguably, the greatest cost of this amendment lies in the foregone opportunity to develop an enhanced and more effective reservation policy so that we can genuinely see an end to the entrenched inequalities in Indian society in the medium term. We have gotten so used to business as usual that we make no effort to sharpen our focus and look for more effective solutions, solutions that would make reservations redundant in 50 years.
- We must think about alternative strategies. One strategy may be to try and spread the benefits of reservations as widely as possible within the existing framework and ensure that individuals use their reserved category status only once in their lifetime. This would require that anyone using reservations to obtain a benefit such as college admission must register his/her Aadhaar number and she would be ineligible to use reservations for another benefit (e.g. a job) in the future. This would require no changes to the basic framework but spread the benefits more broadly within the reserved category allowing a larger number of families to seek upward mobility.
- A second strategy might be to recognise that future economic growth in India is going to come from the private sector and entrepreneurship. In order to ensure that all Indians, regardless of caste, class and religion, are able to partake in economic growth, we must focus on basic skills. We have focused on admission to prestigious colleges and government jobs, but little attention is directed to social inequality in the quality of elementary schooling.
GS II: GOVERNANCE
Q2. Discuss why there should not be any qualification to contest for local body election in India.
- Local bodies must not be administrative vessels for implementing programmes of the Central and State governments
- Prescribing educational qualifications for contesting elections is problematic in multiple ways. Fundamentally, it unduly restricts a citizen’s right to contest elections and thereby challenges the basic premise of a republican democracy. Denying the right to contest effectively restricts the right of a citizen to vote for a candidate of her choice since more than half the population is restricted from contesting. Further, it disproportionately disenfranchises the more marginal sections of society: women, Dalits and poor. In a country like India with unequal access to education, it is cruel to blame citizens for the failure of the state to fulfil its constitutional obligations.
- This is based on an ill-informed assumption that those with formal education will be better in running panchayats. This approach goes against the very objective of the 73rd and 74th Amendments that sought to make panchayats and municipalities representative institutions with adequate representation from Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and women. Though local governments now have a definite space within India’s constitutional structure, they are still seen as administrative vessels for implementing programmes of the Central and State governments.
- The undermining of local governments as representative institutions does not take place solely through the introduction of restrictions for contesting elections. The continual delay in elections goes against the purpose of the 73rd and 74th Amendments which listed the “absence of regular elections” and “prolonged supersessions” as stated reasons behind their introduction. These amendments also mandated the creation of a State Election Commission (SEC) in each State for the preparation of electoral rolls and the conduct of elections to panchayats and municipalities. However, in most States, tasks like delimitation of seats are still done by the State government instead of the SEC. It is often under the guise of delimitation of seats that local government elections are delayed, especially when the party in power fears losses.
India prides itself as a robust democracy, at least in the procedural sense, with regular elections and smooth transfer of power. However, the absence of elected councils in some local governments punches holes in this claim. The lack of alarm caused by the denial of local democracy reveals our collective bias regarding the place of local governments. Delaying elections and adding restrictions to contest prevent local governments from becoming truly representative institutions.