The Modi government’s choice has more to do with niyat (intention) than niti (policy).
If Indian universities implement the so-called ‘13-point roster’, which considers each subject department asa unit to implement quotas in appointments, the provision of constitutionally-mandated reservation will steadily become redundant. The Supreme Court dismissed two petitions challenging an Allahabad High Court judgment ruling in favour of department-wise reservation in universities.
Depending on the political situation, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government now has three options. The choice has more to do with niyat (intention) than niti (policy).
- The Union government can say that as the apex court has settled the matter, the Allahabad High Court’s judgment in October, which had found the earlier system faulty and ordered to implement reservation department-wise, will be implemented. This, the government will do, only if it believes that appeasing the upper caste will be sufficient to win the 2019 national election, and that sounding anti-reservationist is politically fine.
The logical conclusion of the Supreme Court order will follow and the 13-point roster will be implemented by the universities. Essentially, this will further diminish the proportion of SC, ST, OBC teachers in Indianacademics.
- Or, the government can enact a law or promulgate an ordinance to nullify the effect of the Allahabad High Court judgment.
If it decides to uphold constitutional morality and wants to act according to the spirit of the ConstituentAssembly, this option will be exercised. But the government will do this only if it concludes that there can be a backlash of the subaltern. This generally does not happen.
But there are some notable exceptions like the 2 April Bharat Bandh, which was staged against the tinkering and dilution of SC/ST Atrocities Act. The Modi government passed a law in Parliament overturning the Supreme Court order and reaffirmed its commitment to the SC/ST Atrocities Act.
Will this happen again? Nobody knows.
- Similarly, in this case of university faculty quotas, the government can appeal against the Supreme Court judgment before the larger bench: If the government wants to postpone the issue till the elections, it may take this route. This will pacify the SC, ST and OBC communities. But then the government has to ensure that the universities do not go overboard in advertising faculty positions as they had done soonafter the UGC notification, in order to comply with the Allahabad High Court order. Such a move may anger the SC, ST, OBCs.
This is a crucial test the government has to pass in coming days.
Spirit of Constitution
As India prepares for the key national election in May, the government will be under pressure to demonstrate its commitment to the spirit of the debates in the Constituent Assembly.
While deliberating on the principle of equality, the members of the Constituent Assembly acknowledged that India is fundamentally an unequal nation; and that creating fraternity was a necessity—a prerequisite for nation-building among thousands of caste groups that are arranged in a system of graded inequality.
That is the reason that we have articles like 15(4), 16 (4), 335, 340, 341, 342 in the Constitution, whichsafeguard the interests of the underclass.
The provisions of reservations in jobs and education emanates from these articles. All institutions, including the executive and the judiciary, are meant to work together to make India more inclusive and participatory.
And most importantly, the Modi government must remember that our nation’s founders said that if due to some aberration, any of these institutions act contrary to the basic premise of social justice enshrined in thePreamble of the Constitution, the government of the day, Parliament and the judiciary should take corrective steps and ensure that the right to equality and provisions for reservations are implemented.
Allahabad HC judgment threatens reservation
The operative part of the judgment is that universities should consider each department as a unit to implement reservation. The court was hearing a petition that challenged the earlier method of taking the entire university as a unit for implementing reservation. The court ruled in favour of the petitioner as the university failed to defend its case.
In an earlier case, the High Court ruled that ‘The rules of reservation and roster shall be applied college wise and subject wise when there are plurality of posts as indicated above.’
The Union government should have acted back then only, as the matter was also related to central universities.
On the contrary, University Grants Commission, a body under the human resource development (HRD)ministry, without wasting any time issued a notification asking all central universities to implement the order of the Allahabad High Court.
The UGC never contemplated going to the court or even seeking advice from the HRD ministry.
What are the different roster systems?
Prior to the Allahabad High Court judgment, all central universities were following the 200-point roster system, which considered the university as a unit to implement reservation.
This system explains how the posts numbering 1 to 200 will be distributed among different categories. If implemented honestly, which is very rare, this system will ensure that out of 200 posts, 99 will go to the SC, ST, and OBC communities and 101 will be left unreserved.
The Allahabad High Court found the earlier system faulty and ordered to implement reservation department-wise. This is the genesis of 13-point roster.
According to this system, first, second and third posts will be unreserved, the fourth will be reserved for OBCs,while the fifth and sixth will again be unreserved. Further, the seventh post will be reserved for SCs, the eighthfor OBCs, the ninth, tenth and eleventh will be unreserved, the twelfth reserved for OBCs, and the thirteenth and final one will be reserved for SCs.
This implies that OBCs will get a seat only when a department has four or more vacancies.
An SC candidate will be selected only when there are as many as seven seats. For an ST seat, there has to be more than 13 vacancies. But the number of university departments has increased. Take the case of History department, which is broken down into Ancient History, Medieval History, Modern History, European History, American History and so on.
In most of these departments, the possibility of a large number of new vacancies is almost nil. So having this system in itself means that the reservation will never be implemented in the true spirit of the Constitution.
When the universities published advertisements for recruitment last year, there was a furore among SC, ST and OBC students, research scholars and job seekers. They realised that there is, in reality, no reservation in teaching posts in the central universities. Protests were organised and the issue resonated in Parliament. The government reacted to this and took back the UGC notification and a Special Leave Petition (SLP) was filed in the Supreme Court.
The UGC had to inform the universities to stop all recruitments till the issue is settled.
Now the SLP has been rejected by the two-judge bench of the Supreme Court. And, the government’s will is under test again.
The author is a senior journalist.