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Nitish Kumar spoke in favour of 50 per cent job reservation in the private sector on the basis of caste, and called for a debate at the national level. In Bihar, he has introduced a caste-based quota in outsourced jobs, which has been called a ‘backdoor entry’ for private sector reservations. Uday Narayan Choudhary, a JD-U leader, has questioned the legality of private sector reservations.

Is Nitish Kumar’s proposal for caste-based quotas in the private sector a feasible idea?

There is an intense pressure on the concept of reservations itself currently. Even though the constitutional provision of reservations was originally only for 10 years, our Parliament has continued to extend them. If they had been implemented in letter and spirit in which they were drafted, there would have not been the loss or rather denial of constitutional rights to the SCs and STs for generations.

The evidence lies in the handful of the eligible ones who were able to access government jobs and some education in the past now see their children in professional colleges and prestigious research institutions competing on equal terms with the privileged groups. Ironically, the existence of this small but visible section is now being used to argue that those SC/STs  who have achieved some quality of life should no longer have access to reservations.

Here are other sharp perspectives on private sector reservation:

Rupa Subramanya: Co-author of Indianomix
Chandra Bhan Prasad: Dalit entrepreneur and author
Anand Teltumbde: Writer, civil rights activist
Milind Kamble: Founder, Dalit Indian Chamber of Commerce & Industry

Conversely, the evidence of huge denial of the benefits of reservations for generations is visible in the huge backlog of vacancies in almost all government institutions. At the same time, privatisation in education and jobs has resulted in denial of access to education and jobs for the disadvantaged. Hence, it is essential to promote reservations in the private sector.

Whether this is feasible or not depends on the political will of the governments. It is a globally proven fact that institutions with greater diversity are more successful and innovative and endure longer. Whether Nitish Kumar has the political will and influence to make this happen is a moot point.

Cynthia Stephen is an independent writer, social policy researcher and analyst on issues of gender and caste.

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