Increasing the reservations on one side and on the other side increasing the number of seats so that general category does not suffer is the UPA Government's please-all formula.
The Congress-led alliance and its Left supporters announced that 27 per cent of the seats in Central educational institutions would be available to Other Backward Classes (OBCs) from June 2007. Simultaneously, it has been decided to increase the number of seats so as to ensure that the general category did not lose out.
The Manmohan Singh Government's seriousness in this regard is reflected in the decision to set up an Oversight Committee to draw a time-bound road map on reservation issue, which virtually hijacked the UPA-Left Coordination Committee meeting spread over two sessions to take stock of the two-year performance of the Government. The panel will take into account the recommendations of academicians and administrators before submitting its report by August 31.Besides the Oversight panel, smaller groups consisting of deans, directors and Vice-Chancellors would be constituted to work out details for each class of institutions such as IITs and IIMs.
The meeting also decided that while the Constitution amendment providing for reservation is implemented in letter and in spirit, a bill will be introduce during the monsoon session of Parliament to provide for the quota. The Left parties insisted that the Government sent out a clear message that it was committed to implementing the reservation policy. Even from within the alliance, there was intense pressure for a quick decision on the issue as some southern partners like PMK and DMK even demanded an ordinance so that the issue is not allowed to drag. A votary of reservation, RJD leader Lalu Prasad also pitched in favour of quick implementation of the quota.
At the meeting, the Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh circulated a note that said that the number of seats would be increased so that general category students are not affected by the increase in quota. It also promised to appoint more teachers. An option before the Government is to re-employ teachers till the age of 65.
The decision backed by across-the-board political consensus brushes aside the National Knowledge Commission's objections. Two members of the Commission have already resigned over the issue. The move also comes amid nation-wide protests against OBC reservation in higher education proposed by the HRD Minister Arjun Singh. Protesting doctors have said that the Government has backstabbed them with its ''outrageous'' decision.
Political observers, however, feel that the assessment of the Congress was rooted in the assumption that implementation of the quota proposal would widen the emotional distance between that party and the upper caste. At the same time the party felt that the quota would help create a more equitable society and enable greater upward and social mobility, as OBCs have not benefited from the expansion in education opportunities in the last six decades.
Experts also point out that the Government does not tackle the growing issue of dropouts, especially of SC/ST students at the Class 10 level; the reservation in higher education will remain meaningless. A new educational data, released by the HRD Ministry points out that school education is in dire need of reform as a total of 79.25 per cent of the scheduled tribe and 73 per cent scheduled caste students drop out at Class 10 because of economic exigencies.
The latest plan - popularly known as Mandal II -- to increase the number of seats by over 50 per cent could cost an estimated Rs.7,800 crore in non-recurring and Rs.2,200 crore in recurring expenditure. While Finance Minister Mr P Chidambaram feels raising this amount is not a problem, tax payers have a hunch that they will be asked to play Santa Claus all over again in the form of new cess.
(Edited from Source: Subhashis Mittra, Special Correspondent, PTI )