Reservation policy in Indian Institutes of Technology

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The Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) practices affirmative action and offers reservation to backward sections of the society. This has been the subject of much debate and protests.

Historical overview[edit]

India is one of the few countries that practices affirmative action on a large scale. B. R. Ambedkar, the Minister of Law in the Interim Government, and a leader who had a great influence in drafting of the Indian constitution, made provisions for reservations for Scheduled Castes (previously termed 'untouchables') in government run institutions in the 1950s. Consequently, IITs have been offering reservation for Scheduled Castes and Tribes of society since 1973. However, while a policy of quota system exists throughout the country for their reservation, a slightly different scheme is implemented in IITs, as these are Institutes of National Importance.

The IITs had initially implemented a quota system, but the quota system was scrapped and the modified scheme described below was introduced in 1983. This procedure was evolved based on the experience of implementing a quota system for ten years (1973–1983). The logic cited for this procedure is that IITs being Institutes of National Importance, there should not be any compromise on the quality of students studying in them; accordingly, students admitted through the reserved quota have no relaxation in requirements for passing courses or getting the degree. They are, however, allowed to complete the program at a slower pace (take longer to get the degree).

Policy implementation[edit]

Currently, reservation of 15%, 7.5% and 27% seats is provided for candidates hailing from SC, ST and OBC communities.[1] In case enough candidates do not meet minimum qaualifying criteria as per written tests, SC/ST candidates are permitted a relaxation of 50%. If some vacancies still exists, a further relaxation is offered with a deferred admission after 1 year of Preparatory Course study covering physics, chemistry and mathematics. After one year of study, only those candidates who are able to clear a cut-off in the End Semester Exams are allowed into regular studies at the IITs. The seats reserved for SC/ST students are not transferable to General Category and roll on to the next year's students from the Preparatory Courses.

Recent developments[edit]

In 1989, Prime Minister Vishwanath Pratap Singh accepted and implemented the proposals of Mandal Commission that recommended provisions for reservations in private unaided institutions as well as high-end government jobs for minorities communities. It also laid stress on including the OBCs in the perview of reservations. There were massive student protests throughout the country against it, but the proposals were eventually implemented. However, no changes took place in the IITs because of the legislation. But in the year 2005, based on the recommendations of an independent panel, the UPA government at the centre proposed to implement quota system for Scheduled caste, Schedule tribe, Other Backward Classes and minority communities in IITs and IIMs (for both students and faculty). To pave way for such reservation scheme, the Constitution of India was amended (the 93rd Constitutional Amendment, originally drafted as 104th Amendment Bill). In 2006, the UPA government promised to implement 27% reservation for OBCs in institutes of higher education (twenty central universities, the IITs, IIMs and AIIMS) after 2006 Assembly elections. This, if implemented, would reduce the seats for the general section of the population to less than 50.5% (since those for whom the quota is granted can compete with the general section also on merit).

This led to sharp reactions from the student communities in the institutes concerned and also substantial opposition from students of other colleges as well. Students gathered under the banner of "Youth for Equality" and demanded that the government roll back its decision to grant more reservations. Nearly 150 students went on hunger strike in AIIMS (Delhi) which, as on 23 May has entered into its ninth day.[2] Within the next few days, students from all IITs joined the protest in one form or the other. Student protesters were reportedly beaten brutally in Mumbai and Delhi. Resident doctors from all over India joined the protests crippling the health infrastructure of a number of cities.[3][4] The government took stern measures to counter the protesting doctors by serving them with suspension letters and asking them to vacate the hostels to make way for newly recruited doctors. Many states have invoked the Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA) and gave notice to the doctors to return to work in 24 hours failing which legal action will be taken against them. The government has also put on alert 6,000 men from Rapid Action Force to take care of any untoward incident. However in most places the protesters remained defiant regarding ESMA. Few IIT students also wrote to the President of India requesting him to allow them to commit suicide if the proposed reservation is implemented.[4]

In addition to complete roll-back of the proposed reservation, the striking protesters have demanded that an expert committee comprising members from non-political organisations to review the existing reservation policy and find out whether reservation for OBCs is required at all. This is based on the current confusion over actual population of OBC as various organisations have indicated various figures for the population of OBCs. This is mostly because the 1931 national census was the last time detailed population and economic data was gathered along with caste information for the OBC population. The Mandal Commission, using extrapolated 1931 Census figures, put it at 52 per cent, the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) at 32 per cent and the National Family and Health Survey at 29.8 per cent. Keeping in view the fact that already 23.5% of all college seats are reserved for OBCs, the rationale of extending reservation is debated.[5] The protesters also demand that no penal action be taken against the protesters and publication of a white paper by the government, making its stand clear on reservation.[6]

Meanwhile the National Knowledge Commission has requested the government to maintain the status-quo on the issue; 6 out of 8 of its members felt that alternative avenues have been insufficiently explored.[7] After the HRD minister Arjun Singh criticised the Knowledge Commission for its stand, two members of the Commission (Pratap Bhanu Mehta and Andre Beteille) resigned on 22 May 2006.[8] Around the same time, a section of the media has reported that IIT Delhi, an elite institution is half-hearted about reservation and that it denied admission to the top ranking Scheduled caste student in its post-graduate programme.[9] The NRI Quota was once started where Indian Kids living outside India got admission in the IIT's through their SAT scores, the NRI Quota should not pass over 2.5% of the overall seats. The NRI Quota was later stopped due to low quality of students.

On 29 March 2007, the Supreme Court of India, as an interim measure, stayed the law providing for 27 percent reservation for Other Backward Classes in educational institutions like IITs and IIMs. This was done in response to a public interest litigation — Ashoka Kumar Thakur vs. Union of India. The Court held that the 1931 census could not be a determinative factor for identifying the OBCs for the purpose of providing reservation. The supreme court also observed, "Reservation cannot be permanent and appear to perpetuate backwardness".[10]

On 10 April 2008, the Supreme Court of India upheld the law that provides for 27% reservation for Other Backward Castes (OBCs) in educational institutions supported by the Central government, while ruling that the creamy layer among the OBCs should be excluded from the quota.[11][12]

Reservation for faculty[edit]

On 9 June 2008, the government ordered 15% quota for SC, 7.5% for ST and 27% quota for OBCs in teaching positions. IITs currently have no reservations in teaching positions.[13][14][15]

Arguments against reservation[edit]

The main argument against the concept of reservation is that it goes against the idea of merit and would dilute the IITs as one of the basic reasons behind their success is the excellent students they get via IIT-JEE. It is also being argued by the opposers that the irreparable damage caused during the childhood of the individual, cannot be rectified at a later stage. Also, the primary education provided by the government to the economically poor is highly inadequate, and this negligence by the government is the root cause of the problem.[16] Statistics across the IIT's reveal that while about 4–5% of general category students do not complete their degree program, the number goes up to about 20% for reserved category students.[17] This is used as an argument against reservations claiming that the reserved class candidates are not adequately prepared to face the challenging academic life in IITs.

The argument of centuries of social injustice through the caste system (see below, in the next Section) is not accepted by those who point out that the caste system, although differently known and practised in different societies, is a tribal hangover from the past, which had some merit in that it ensured, or 'reserved', specified jobs to be done castes which had a preference to do so. They have no sanction in the Vedas (the Upanishads Section) in which only speak of four broad 'Varnas' or divisions according to the temperament of people and of inter-Varna switch, or mobility, based on individual efforts when he/she happens to be borne to a man of a particular Varna. This process, called 'Samskara' is, approximately, conscious individual refinement. In a true sense, therefore, the talk of deliberate subjugation of or discrimination of upper castes against lower castes has no basis, even though distortions of the principle has happened historically, without sanction of the Vedas. Hence reservation, the anti-reservationists seem to say, is just a mask for demanding reservations under the cloak of casteism over-riding merit and blissfully ignoring that Vedas do not sanction this. At any rate, after several decades of Varna reservation for the lowest social strata comprising certain classes constitutionally enshrined as 'scheduled castes' and 'scheduled tribes', and otherwise open competition to all people irrespective of any criteria other than merit and aptitude, there is no justification for the political parties to demand extend reservation of educational admission and job opportunities to more classes ('other backward castes'). It is pointed out that more opportunities in keeping with the uncontrolled growth in population, in all spheres of economic activity as well as education, will be the only right answer and not reservation. However, since proportional representation is the basis of modern democracy as it is practised, these anti-reservationists point out, this, in India, has led to its most abominable abuse, resulting in a democracy which is of and by Indians but against their own interests, since a disunited country oblivious of equality of opportunity because of prohibitive reservation levels, can never compete successfully in the global context, nor achieve much in its own management of internal economy.(Already due to politicisation of trade unions, India's labour productivity remains among the lowest in the world, as a UK study had pointed out a few years ago.) The abuse of political power to demand reservation for all other than the so-called 'forward ' communities is, according to the contesters, just a vote bank politics to woo the majority represented by the beneficiary communities to cast their votes in their favour. Since, however, there are no opponents among political parties to educational and job reservations, in view of their universal vote bank politics, such reservation in themselves cannot favour any particular parties at the elections.

In response to the government's assurances that seats will be increased in the institutes so that the general category students don't get affected, another point raised against reservation is that most of the seats reserved for SC/ST candidates remain empty and hence any more reservation is a waste of resources. A major concern among them is also the fact that implementing reservation in institutes of higher education would be difficult unless the quality of faculty in them is diluted. They back this point by the fact that all IITs and IIMs are facing shortage of faculty and hence increasing the seats will lead to deterioration of education. For example, while IIT Kharagpur requires 667 faculties, it currently has only 470. Similarly, IIT Bombay has just 401 faculties as against the required 529.

Arguments in favour of reservation[edit]

The most important argument in favour of reservation is basically economic in nature. If there is discrimination and exclusion prevailing in any of the institutions, whether industry, educational institutions, it has a negative impact on the economic growth[citation needed]. In the absence of equal opportunity, a sizeable section of the society remain either unemployed or underemployed[citation needed]. The burden will be taken by a minuscule economic agents accessing opportunity to the mentioned institutions. Reservation as a form of positive discrimination should be welcomed for the national interest[citation needed]. But this shouldn't mean reducing the opportunity for the general categories. Government should try to accommodate all by creating more number of educational institutions. Some people consider the additional procedures for admission into the IITs as unnecessary and counter-productive. The opposition to the policy of reservation (through the preparatory course), and favouring direct admission is based on the following arguments:[18]

  1. In the past, a large number of seats remained vacant. According to some estimates, only 10% of SC/ST seats were filled due to lack of qualified candidates.[17] However, since 2010 hardly any reserved seats are left unfilled as enough candidates qualify on merit.
  2. Candidates who did not have the basic minimum marks but were on the borderline were offered admission after spending on year studying preparatory course. They wasted a year as well as felt traumatised due to this preparatory course.In 2012, for the first time there was no need to have a preparatory batch since enough candidates qualified within the reduced parameters.

On the philosophy behind the process of reservation itself, the people in favour of reservation feel that reservation is necessary to undo and counter the 'evils' of centuries of caste system that prevailed in the country. Reservation proponents also contend that merit as it is defined today is something that is achieved with the help of cramming, tutoring, constant guidance, quality schooling and knowledge of English and poor Dalits, poor MBC's lack most of these[citation needed]. This (the argument cnetering on cramming, tutoring, etc.) the anti-reservationists do not accept, pointing out that not all high-scorers at the exams can hope to eventually succeed in translating their knowledge into skills, but low-scorers especially in higher education will also score badly on the skill ladder proportionately much more than high-scorers. They also suggest that the examination-based approach to merit evaluation calls for a modification to better reflect meritorious performance in practical demonstration of skills, but casteist reservation does not have anything to offer as a solution in this regard. Which, they add, only goes to expose the foul game of the politicians of India many of whom have a record of strongly alleged offences and crimes of numerous types[citation needed].

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