Indians are homo hierarcicus, so there is also a hierarchy among categories of reservations — for the upper castes and for Dalits and Other Backward Classes.
Nothing could arguably explain this hierarchy better than the amount of time it took the legislative to bring the two sets of people under the shelter of quota.
To bring about a constitutional guarantee of giving reservations to the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes, the Constituent Assembly conducted lengthy deliberations. A number of court cases, too, weighed in before the matter was widely considered as settled. It took 43 years to implement OBC reservations, which was already there as Article 340 in the Constitution.
By contrast, the whole process of introducing reservation for the upper caste poor (EWS or economically weaker section) — from drafting the bill to amending the Constitution and getting in passed in both Houses of Parliament — took only a few hours. The orders for direct recruitment on vacant posts are also now in place. And the courts are in no rush to hear the petitions challenging this quota.
This hierarchy extends to the rules under which these reservations are implemented – most notably the relaxation in age and the number of attempts available to the aspirants to enter the civil services, which are different for the upper caste poor and the marginalised groups.
The provision regarding the age relaxation in direct recruitment under the DoPT rules, in place since 1955, states: “The maximum age-limit prescribed for direct recruitment to a service or post shall be increased by 5 years in the case of candidates belonging to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes and by 3 years in the case of candidates belonging to OBCs.”
But this relaxation is not there in the case of upper caste or ‘savarna’ reservation. In the rules notified by the DoPT for EWS reservation, there is no mention of any relaxation in terms of age or the number of attempts allowed to the aspirants. Strangely enough, the upper caste outfits like the Youth for Equality, Brahmin Mahasabha or Karni Sena have so far not raised the demand for relaxations, either.
So why do the SC, ST, OBCs have these relaxations?
On the face of it, this would seem to be the case of doling out additional benefits to the SC, ST and OBC groups in an effort to help them secure a government job for ‘representation’. The stated rationale has been that the system wants to provide more opportunities to a section or sections of people who otherwise face deprivation and can’t compete with others due to discrimination.
The question then is: do the economically weaker sections of the upper strata also face deprivation or discrimination? If yes, then such relaxations must be logically extended to them too. But if the answer is no, then what is the rationale behind bringing the savarna EWS within the ambit of affirmative action and giving them the reservation?
Savarna EWS group fails the test of Article 16(4) of the Indian Constitution, which puts a condition: of ‘under representation’ in government jobs for providing reservation. The article states: “Nothing…prevents the State from making any provision for the reservation of appointments or posts in favour of any backward class of citizens which, in the opinion of the State, is not adequately represented in the services under the State.”
Is there any data to prove that savarna EWS is under represented in jobs? Since there was no survey or census conducted to ascertain their representation, even as the SC/ST/OBC groups have been well documented as being grossly under-represented in government jobs, there is little doubt that the savarnas are over represented and, therefore, would fail the test of requirement of their grouping alongside the discriminated groups.
And yet here we are — a group that never faced any discrimination (but was, in fact, the perpetrator of the discrimination against the deprived class), no historical deficit, doesn’t require relaxation in age or attempts (when the quotas do become available), but is still considered fit enough to be included in the ambit of affirmative action!
Is it really beneficial to have age-attempt relaxations?
From an individual standpoint, the answer would likely be ‘yes’. And so, it is puzzling as to why the savarna poor groups have not asked for this. Why indeed?
Relaxation in age and attempts has turned out to be a clever way to exclude the SC, ST and OBC groups from reaching the top echelons of the Indian bureaucracy, academia or other organisations.
The retirement age is same for all categories, so a person entering a service, after availing the age relaxation benefit will retire early. Hence, her or his possibility of reaching at the top decreases accordingly. The person at the top level in any organisation wields enormous power, so the fact that one section of people (the Dalits and the OBCs) remain unrepresented at that level is a problem that has not been addressed for the large part — least of all the fact that this problem has its genesis somewhat in the provision of relaxation in age.
If there are, say, two candidates — one from the SC category and another from the unreserved category — theoretically, there can be a service tenure gap of 16 years, as the latter can enter the service at the age of 21, whereas an SC candidate has the ‘opportunity’ to enter the service at the age of 37.