The Indian Economy Blog

May 20, 2006

Reservations about Reservations

Filed under: Education — Atanu Dey @ 10:40 pm

I am somehow less interested in the weight and convolutions of Einstein’s brain than in the near certainty that people of equal talent have lived and died in cotton fields and sweatshops. — Stephen Jay Gould

The criminal neglect of education, in my considered opinion, is the most important charge upon which the policy makers of India stand indicted. An entire generations of Indians have lived and died since independence—a reasonable estimate would place the number around 500 million humans—about half of whom were illiterate, not just uneducated. The lost potential is stupefyingly mind boggling. How many Ramanujans and Einsteins have they condemned to obscurity and waste, how many did not even see the insides of a school or learn to read, write, reason and do arithmetic?

The answer would break the heart of any thinking human being.

It is time for a full disclosure. My interest in education is not merely academic. I want to transform the current system, which is outdated, outmoded, irrelevant, inefficient and ineffective. Shameless plug follows: if you are interested in working with me in creating the educational system of the future or know someone who may be interested, do get in touch.

Back to the criminal neglect of education. Not only did they—those who were in charge of Indian policy—not create an educational system that works, they are now busy figuring out a way to sabotage a system that seems to sort of work. I am talking about the recent announced policy of increasing the reservations for scheduled castes and tribes, and for other backward classes (SC/ST, OBC—as they are termed) in the institutes of higher education. I have expressed some of my views here (see Indian Reservations, and Imagine No Reservations). This piece is an elaboration of the basic theme. My assessment is that it is madness. Whom the gods would destroy they first make mad, observed old Euripides. I worry about the upcoming destruction of the Indian educational system, which if carried out efficiently enough, effectively dooms India.

Here is a recapitulation of my argument from the previous pieces. Reservation in higher education institutions for SC/ST and OBC candidates is idiotic. The better alternative is to help disadvantaged people—those who I label “sufficiently poor”—with resources so that they can afford an education. If that is done, then even the poor will have equal opportunity to be able to compete and find their place in the world. Assuring equality of opportunity is mandated but equality of outcome is not only not mandated but is an objectively silly goal to aim for.

There are disadvantaged groups and many of these groups have been historically discriminated against. An absolutely valid argument can be made that these groups need help to redress past injuries and injustices. The question is not if they have to be helped, but rather how. Are reservations in higher education the way to go? The answer is no if even after securing admission they are ill-prepared to make use of the opportunity.

I have spoken to faculty members at IITs who have recounted that most quota candidates have to face an uphill struggle and many give up after a few years. It is not that the quota candidates are intrinsically inferior; fact is that they did have the disadvantage of not having had a decent schooling. The only quota candidates that actually do well are those from the upper middle class. One medical college dean revealed that as a last resort, he gets quota students who don’t make the grade to swear that they will not practice medicine and will only take on administrative jobs (there are job quotas there, too), and only on that condition does he pass them so that they exit the system without loss of face.

Let me once again stress: the children of disadvantaged groups are not naturally incompetent. It is the lack of opportunity in the earlier stages of the educational system that handicaps them in the later stages. The playing field has to be leveled at an earlier stage of the game. The solution therefore is not reservations at the higher education level but assistance at the school level.

The question of why reservation in higher education for disadvantaged groups is irrelevant is plain if you do the arithmetic. Even if you do 100 percent reservation in the elite institutions, at most you will have something of the order of 10,000 seats. This is an insignificant number relative to the total number of students in the disadvantaged groups—which is of the order of tens of millions. Indeed, compared to the potential demand for higher education, the actual supply is laughably insignificant.

The IITs attract 300,000 potential students and admit around 5,000. To a first approximation, nobody gets into an IIT. The wide gap between the supply and demand is bridged by a system which has evolved into a grotesque caricature of competition. To enter one of the IITs, there is an exam called the Joint Entrance Exam (JEE). The objective of the exam is not to test whether a student is qualified to study at an IIT but rather to weed out about 98.5 percent of the candidates because the IITs are capacity constrained. This leads to enormous economic loss, and at time loss of human lives.

Let’s dwell on the JEE for a bit. Markets work, as we economists are prone to declare at the drop of a hat. Given the supply constraint, the market response is an entire industry which prepares students to do well in the JEE. So there are coaching institutions which charge an arm and a leg to help a student do well in the JEE. It gets surreal when you realize that to get into one of the more successful coaching classes, you have to appear for an admissions test. So, here is the deal: you have to pass an admissions test to get into a coaching class which will prepare you for the JEE so that you can get into an IIT. What next—that there will be second- and third-order coaching classes? That is, you will have to appear for a test to enroll in a class that will help you take the admissions test to get into a coaching class which prepares you to pass the JEE.

Here is the economics of this surreal system: an IIT education is worth, say, Rs 100 lakhs (around $220K). But the total private cost is only Rs 5 lakhs. So the “profit” is Rs 95 lakhs. So even if you have to pay Rs 5 lakhs to increase your chances of getting into an IIT, it makes sense. That is therefore what the market delivers: high priced coaching classes. About one hundred thousand go to coaching classes and of these about 5,000 make it to the IITs. The 95,000 who don’t make it have to lump it, and some even take the extreme route of killing themselves. Why? They realize that their parents have spent money they could not afford to send them to coaching and they failed their parents.

Let’s take stock. The supply of higher education is severely limited. The reason for this supply limitation I will go into in a bit. The demand is high. The competition for admission leads to economic waste, for starters. Then there is the even more expensive skewing of the objective of the students: they are often not spending time and resources to understand the subject or because they like it, but because they want to do better in the admissions test than their competitors. Instead of producing thinking, cooperating humans, the system forces too many to focus on a narrow objective and to develop a maniacal zeal to study for a test that is more of a test of narrowly defined skills rather than an overall test of fitness to pursue higher studies. This exercise, I am sure, damages many students’ personalities so that they become anti-social and un-cooperative. They become incapable of group cooperation in solving problems. I have met too many IIT graduates who are perfectly dreadful people to hang out with. They are self-absorbed, narrow-minded, money-grubbing uni-dimensional idiots. I should hasten to add that there are notable exceptions to this characterization, of course.

The issue of reservation in higher education is not really complex. It is rather simple if one thinks about it for a while. Einstein observed that the universe is ultimately comprehensible. Compared to that, the economic system of a nation is child’s play. Although apparently confusing, India’s failures are totally comprehensible if one bothers to look at it with some degree of care. Just investigating thoroughly only one aspect of the economy would reveal the fact that ultimately it is the combined result of a small set of conditions. I will explore to its logical conclusion just one simple fact: why is education in India so supply constrained. It will become apparent that there are systemic problems which can be addressed. Like a good detective story, the plot line is simple. The system is the way it is because it leads to gains for those who are in charge. Once we have considered the facts, the solution will be obvious.

For now, here is the hint: barriers to entry. What are they, why do they exist, and how can they be removed? That I will do in the next piece. Stay tuned.

33 Comments »

  1. u just said exactly what i had in mind. i agree with u completely. the need for universal primary and secondary education and the need to abolish useless admission exams like JEE, public services etc.. too many people waste too much productive time and effort to prepare for these exams which have no value or purpose except to fill a couple of hundred seats. what is needed is for our education to move away from rote learning and encourage innovation, thinking and enterprise.

    we need to encourage students to experiment and try out things than mug up scientific concepts and vomit it in 3 hours on during an “exam”.

    what is ur opinion on Job oriented courses?

    Comment by Apollo — May 21, 2006 @ 1:36 am

  2. i’am interested in supporting u in the effort to reform and modernise our education system. pls mail me.

    Comment by Apollo — May 21, 2006 @ 1:39 am

  3. Atanu,

    To add to what you have said, I frequently mention to my friends that in terms of creative output our population of 1000 million is probably no more than that of an advanced nation of 50 million people. Now, you can argue with the number, but I suspect this is not far of- I have just benchmarked this with the population of some nations. The sad part is it need not be so. I am equally passionate about education and reforming it even if I do not have enough of an alternate complete framework to suggest.

    Ending discrimination is a critical pre-condition both to enhance access to opportunities and address the need for restoration of the dignity of the deprived communities. Sadly, I have advocates of this discrimination in some sections of my family, even today. This retrograde attitude is also the outcome of inadequate education! Reforming this state of affairs is cirtical to our construction of a productive and creative society in India.

    I agree that reservation of seats in capacity constrained higher education is not the right solution. MASSIVE investment in primary and secondary education is one of the critical elements of the strategy; although I do believe this will have to be supplemented with other action.

    Will look forward to our post on eliminating the barriers to supply!

    Comment by little Ram — May 21, 2006 @ 11:00 am

  4. A good post!

    How about ideas to create a private enterprise which can make affordable/heavily subsidised but quality primary and secondary education into a profitable industry? (In what ways can a big private enterprise profit from educating the masses at primary and secondary level?). Initial sponsorship of a poor citizen’s education can be made to give returns, but only in long term (10-15 years) once the individual is able to reap the benefits of this education. The question we should probably ponder is how one can make this investment profitable. A case in point is loans for students who want to do their MBA’s at the elite institutions. But there the returns on the investment can be had in a shorter time frame (2-4 years). Ideally a country’s government is most suited to make long term investments in its populace, but given the state and narrow and stupid mindset of Indian governments, this is not completely feasible now. So if a large group of investers, NRI’s,firms etc can pool together 100 million dollars to invest in affordable education in India, what is the blueprint for the optimal investment? I am not thinking donations or charity here, but ideas for a viable and profitable private enterprise in this area. Any suggestions, Atanu?

    Comment by sidj — May 21, 2006 @ 4:39 pm

  5. Reservation politics is killing Indian talent and inviting more brain drain, nobody should keep silence about it provided he/she is truly Indian…

    Comment by Abhinav Gupta — May 22, 2006 @ 1:11 am

  6. Dude – learn to be a bit more brief with your writing. I mean it as honest constructive criticism – it takes you about 3 paras to make one point. Use one line.
    As an example, see this economics blog:
    http://stumblingandmumbling.typepad.com/stumbling_and_mumbling/

    I hope you take this the right way, rather than the wrong way.

    Comment by Sunny — May 22, 2006 @ 5:42 am

  7. Sunny, thanks for the criticism and suggestion.

    As they say, different strokes for different folks. I like to take the long and winding road, stopping along the way to look around and enjoy the journey. Some, such as you, don’t want to bother with these ramblings but some others do. Let’s just say that I am writing for those folks who don’t mind spending a bit of time on the topic.

    Comment by Atanu Dey — May 22, 2006 @ 8:22 am

  8. There is a second war of independence being fought by the students of this country. The reservation agitation has divided the country and exposed the countries incompetent parliamentarians who choose the irresponsible approach of creating reservation in order to bring social justice in society clearly ignoring the “creamy layer” effect and the ineffectiveness of such schemes in the past.

    “Upper castes have been able to buy their way” vs. “Merit should be the only consideration for allotment of seats”. The argument assumes that all upper castes are rich is incorrect. Also it must be brought to light that the institutions in which the admission is sought the admission is provided strictly based on merit and hence, the argument that upper castes can “buy their way” is factually incorrect.

    The fact that these institutions are subsidized by the government does not give it right to allot seats to anybody as per its whims and fancies. The fact is that government runs on tax payer’s money and it is obliged to show some respect to these tax payers in terms of honest utilization of public resources to productive purposes. Allotting seats arbitrarily is against efficient utilization of resource principle.

    It does not make sense to reserve seats in the name of social justice. Let’s divide the country into two parts and let all the OBC, SC and ST stay in one part of the country and the rest stay in the other part, much like the India-Pakistan divide in 1947, so that the problem is once for all solved.

    Comment by Nagesh — May 22, 2006 @ 8:37 am

  9. interesting quote.

    wanted to understand how you calculated the lifetime value of an IIT education.

    also wanted to check if anyone’s heard of any research on exactly how many IIT-level seats a country like India should have. I mean 5000 must be an arbirary number. SO what is the correct level: 10,000 seats, 15,000 seats? Given that almost 600,000 students complete their 12th standard every year out of which 300,000 take the JEE. In fact, the enquiry can be taken one step forward: under the current conditions how many engineers and doctors do we really need to graduate every year of the National Institute of Technology quality level if not IIT level.

    Comment by prasad_s — May 22, 2006 @ 10:29 am

  10. Prasad_s, the working life time of 40 years multiplied by Rs 2.5 lakhs per year additional income due to higher salary of an IIT grad compared to a non-IIT grad. That translates to roughly Rs 20K extra a month on average. I think the Rs 100Lakhs is a very conservative estimate.

    The total intake of all the IITs combined is around 5,000 per year. I have checked this with people who know at IIT Kanpur recently.

    Comment by Atanu Dey — May 22, 2006 @ 12:01 pm

  11. >>What next—that there will be second- and third-order coaching classes?

    They already are there….

    Comment by Mani. — May 22, 2006 @ 4:13 pm

  12. Maybe , the next Mandal 3 report would call for reservation of ‘equal outcomes’ in selection of cricket team, bus seats, etc

    Comment by Eco Feminist — May 22, 2006 @ 4:32 pm

  13. Its very true and obvious that the Reservation / Quotas will not help the issues that we are facing. “Reservations” are just outdated medicines which are used to cure the disease of dilapidated societal condition of backward classed superficially. I completely agree with Atanu, regarding the availability of proper education both primary and secondary for the underpriviledged. If we are really concerned about the welfare of the backward classes it should be done at the origin. We have to see where does this problem of underpriviledged or backward classes take birth. If we see it takes birth and thrives in the rural India.
    Just go to a village in north bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa and you will see the plight of those people. These poor people do not even have the the basic amenities. They have one meal a day and do not even have the bare minimum clothes to cover their body. The problem takes birth here. I do not understand if a child doesnt get one proper meal a day how do u expect them to grow and reach these professional colleges and take the advantage of the so called “reservations”. Why can’t Arjun Singh see the simple fact behind all this or is he just not willing to see that “Prevention is better than cure”. Why can’t he come up with a simple solution of curing this problem from the root.
    A plan of providing these underpriviledged or backward classes with the necessary nutition and education will resolve the issue completely. A proper primary education with financial support will not only make healthy students but also competetive candidates. Lack of proper education and financial support at these levels, forces the poor kids to take up small jobs here and there to fill their and their families stomach and when the meagre amount is not sufficient they become anti social elements. This gives birth to a clan of under- priviledged and backward group of minds who are nothing but a burden on our society. And this is why any reservation plan hasnt been able to cure the problem 100%.

    If we see the quotas benefit only a small percentage of the backward classes. Just going thru the simple mathematics Suppose 100 kids from a poor village X (from backward classes)who start going to primary school.

    Primary School : 100 students
    now the number of students who actually complete their priamry education is 40% rest 60% give up becoz of financial constraints and other familial pressures to earn their daily living.
    So number of students completing their primary education : 40
    Now if we carry on with the same calculation for secondary education the number of students who complete their secondary education: 16.
    Finally those who get the benefit of reservationas and get into the premier instititues like IITs and Medical colleges (60%): 7 (approx)

    So finally we see that at max only 7% of the total hundred students get benefited rest 93% are left on those dirty and stinking roads of poor villages. Remember those 93% students will form a group which will produce offsprings again in the underpriviledged category and again for those offsprings we will need to provide reservation. So this is not a cure to the problem. this is self propagating and a never ending problem

    On the other hand, if we try and provide those 100 students proper primary education with financial support, They will be able to grow in a healthy way and will be equipped to face the competetion. Out of those 100 students even if 50 of them are able to reach the graduation level they will be very well equipped to face the competetion and get into the best colleges. The remaining 50 sudents can get into other institutions. The very important thing about this scheme is we are not producing under priviledged/ backward offsprings.

    I believe this politically motivated decision of Arjun singh to improve his image in the party is not only jeopardised the future of millions of students but also preparing an onslaught of the indian education system. There is no strong reason provided by Arjun singh in this regard. Go thru this (http://www.ibnlive.com/news/decision-on-quota-is-final-the-chapter-is-closed/11063-4.html). Ours is a democracy and he will have to explain why is he taking these steps.

    Comment by Pradeep Gorai — May 22, 2006 @ 6:09 pm

  14. Dude – learn to be a bit more brief with your writing.

    So is this the Sunny of the “broad brushstrokes” from PP?

    How many “IIT level” seats should we have? A lot, lot more than we have now. Say, 50,000 to start with. While the market isn’t the only thing that should help decide how many; its role is essential. And certainly some babu shd not be deciding this. IITs took some time to catch up with the competition in their time. IITB in the days it operated out of temp premises in Lower Parel and even a few years after it moved to Pawai was consdidered a distant 2nd to VJTI. CoE, Guindy, Madras (~200 years old) had a computer before IIT-M did. Jadhavpur, BE College, Calcutta; HBTI, Kanpur; and Delhi CoEngg were all the premier colleges of their time. And dash it, BHUIT, Roorkee, have held their own thru 50 years of the IIT aura. Allahabad University PhDs got tenured positions abroad till as late as 1962. Why the traditional university system was allowed to wither on the vine and break up into specialised campuses (taken to perverse lengths in TN) will be a mystery.

    Comment by shiva — May 22, 2006 @ 6:33 pm

  15. Shiva is absolutely right when he talks of the competence of the “traditional university system”.
    Worth studying what caused the decline – govt. interference – when they turned from quasi public (if that were the case) to fully govt. run ,lower calibre of teachers coming in or lower or missing levels of R&D.

    Comment by ila — May 23, 2006 @ 6:52 pm

  16. I think we Indians spent more than half of our life span (say 25-30 years) to earn for the rest of our life. Even barbaric people of those days would not have spent that much planned hours to protect themselves to get a secured life.

    I am working for the Indian villages for the past 2 decades. I can see lot of improvement in their food habits, transportation, style of living etc. But still schools lack full attendance, either no Teachers to teach or common teachers for 2-3 different grade classes with Vernacular medium of instruction. This I am talking at the primary level

    Secondary level education is still a big question and many girl students get abruptly stopped from going to school once they attain puberty or when the parents imagine that it is highly risky, sending their girls to school out of their villages for higher studies. It is pretty difficult to convince such parents.

    Hardly 25% may try to leap to the colleges and the sudden change in their living style hostel, adolescence, new environment etc puts more than half this population not to clear the papers and if it happens to be an English medium college education they have to struggle very hard to succeed and get out of the college colorfully.

    There are various segmentations in the society to cater to….. and why the hell people talk of reservation. By this neither the underprivileged, nor the village college goers are involved in this reservation policy.

    In spite of hard work and treacherous life many people do study and it is for those people who do brain works irrespective of caste creed and color should come into the competition as far as it is education.

    As days goes on the admission seats to the hospitals the passenger tickets in the railways and buses and aero planes may also have a reservation quota who knows?

    In the end we think what for is our education useful? And why do we fight in the name of reservation? We try to classify people once they sign their name instead of thumb impressions this is the basic criteria for our literacy in villages.

    What is education? And can we all try to redefine education once again?

    Akilakalai

    Comment by Akila Kalai — May 23, 2006 @ 11:13 pm

  17. Atanu,
    The outside observer might think indian education system is like a BEST Bus with a mad driver ie. Arjun Singh at its controls. The bus is careening through Marine Drive killing hundreds of thousands of passerby, yet cannot slow down below the 50mph…sounds familiar?
    Enter superhero Keanu Dey, who will grab the steering from Arjun and defuse the bomb and stop the killings, preferably all 3 simultaneously.

    I’m usually put off by people who say stuff like “transform the entire system” “create the system of the future” etc. without having even a very modest practical background in the system. Gives off a whiff of the doomed Lok Parithran. If you were a high school teacher for a few years or better yet worked in the school system as an administrator, you would know enough about the overwhelming stake the system has for its several lakhs of participants, its highly diffused nature – it is simply not amenable to any such revolutionary change. At best a few minor tweaks here and there.

    Your pet project – implementing the bicycle economy on a tiny model Indian village, has yet to attain fruition. Now, I submit to you that transforming the Indian educational system is several orders of magnitude more complex.

    Take the somewhat ideal case, something like the US educational system – the American student pretty much has the choice to study whatever he wishes, yes money is an issue but educational loans are easily available, merit is mostly the only criterion etc. Yet every year you have sociologists & primary-ed experts & columnists pointing out how poorly the American student fares compared to his Oriental counterparts, how they abandon the sciences for soft skills, how many of them drop out, how many are simply not taking advantage of the huge potential. Imagine if you will, the Indian student base magically transported to the shores of the US, magically being able to avail of the riches of the American educational system, with no reservation, no shortfalls, no economic crunch etc. Even a lay observer would say the present day average Indian student will easily do 100 times better than the average American student. Yet, over time, the same Indian student, or any student for that matter, will regress to the status quo of the American student. Once the resource constraint disappears, so will the motivation, and only the driven 1% will rise, the rest choosing the easy way out.

    The ideal case ie. the Scandinavian school systems, or the Canadian ones to a great extent, with absolutely no fee, entirely state funded enterprises where students spend much of their adult lives pursuing Art History or study of Romantic languages or sculpture or whatever catches their fancy…yeah I am being glib just to make the point – that eliminating the barrier to supply in its entirety – will still not ensure a vibrant economy. Nobody looks at Finland or Canada and says, what a great economy, 10% growth rates, let me invest there. No, its the Indias with the broken ed systems that get all this fdi :)

    The obvious question, to which nobody – not the Americans or the Europeans and certainly not us – have the answer, is this – suppose the barrier to supply were entirely eliminated, does that ensure a vibrant economy ? Or is it more likely to produce the eastern europe and soviet example – PhDs driving taxi cabs ? How is the economy going to absorb all of this massive intellectual capital that supposedly results ? I submit to you that such a freed up massive intellectual capital is simply a figment of the imagination ie. The average American student or European student, a walking talking sample space of this free intellectual capital allowed to study whatever, do whatever – is not exactly inventing the next iPod or coming up with the next business model in the garage – he is just looking for a entry-level white-collar job, just like the average Indian student.

    Comment by Just a journalist — May 23, 2006 @ 11:29 pm

  18. I suspect that an IIT education is worth MUCH more than $220K. An IIT degree more or less guarantees that you will get into a North American graduate program and subsequently into a North American job with eventual access to American or Canadian citizenship (the latter is easier and allows you to work in the US as much as you want). So instead of being worth an extra $5.5K US per year, an IIT degree may in fact be worth an extra $50K US per year. (i.e. 2 million $).

    Comment by ramster — May 24, 2006 @ 1:06 am

  19. Like everything in the public sector, the govt. funded educational
    institutions too are plagued by problems arising due to politicians with
    vested interests, scrounging for votes (which happens to be the only
    thing that matters to them) under any pretext (religion, caste and all
    possible forms of division that anyone can ever think of). Are we still
    deluding ourselves into thinking that they actually even think about
    repercussions beyond the number of votes they can garner in the next
    election (considering that the educated anti-reservation lobby would
    rather rant and rave than go vote)? Cmon guys.. The only way out is
    privatization. Remove the reins of power from them politicos and you
    solve the-disgusting-shove-down-your-throat-governmental-directives
    problem right there. But if you need the governmental subsidies, such
    vote-buying tactics seeping into the educational system is inevitable .
    There are no free lunches in this world. Banks, electricity
    boards,telecom have shown the way. The IITs and IIMs and AIIMs just need
    to follow suit.

    Atanu- being an economist, with conflicting incentives in play here
    between the two warring factions – political stronghold for politicians
    by mollycoddling the caste bank and upholding of meritocracy for those
    opposing the reservations, does traditional economic theory support
    optimum resolution of such an issue?

    Comment by mirchmasala — May 24, 2006 @ 8:06 am

  20. India(the hindu country) was ruled by muslim invaders for 600 years and by British for 300 years. For the period of recorded history of 2000 years roughly half of it we were ruled by others. The reason is India and particularly hindu religion was divided by caste.
    The social institutions in India promote the caste differnces.

    India is the only country where upper caste hindus hate and illtreat the lower caste. I will say every upper caste hindu thinks lowly of SC/ST/OBC. This includes all the great IIT/IIM/AIMS proffessors. The only objective of the forward community in India is rip off the SC/ST/OBC.

    Comment by Ramu — May 24, 2006 @ 10:18 am

  21. What next—that there will be second- and third-order coaching classes? That is, you will have to appear for a test to enroll in a class that will help you take the admissions test to get into a coaching class which prepares you to pass the JEE.

    Reality is stranger than fiction, and believe it or not this is already happening. I have heard this only anecdotally, but in Hyderabad there are coaching classes targetted at getting students enrolled into Rammaiya classes (prep school for JEE). These classes start at the 8th/9th standard. Rammaiya starts at the 10th/11th standard. To take matters further there are level-3 classes to get into the leve-2 classes which get you into Rammaiya which prepares you for JEE! So, a student can start “training” for JEE/IIT by going to some coaching class or the other from the day (s)he lands in the 6th standard. Matters in this regard have gone from beyond absurd into the bizzare.

    The only way is to raise standards at sufficient number of institutions and univs offering engineering courses so that quality education is not scarce. Demand for good engg education is high, its just that the offerings are very limited.

    Comment by rahul — May 25, 2006 @ 3:08 am

  22. Pls visit Youth of Equality Website and become a member:
    http://www.youth4equality.org/

    The youth fighting the reservation battle must realize that it now or never. If they become weak in their resolve for equality they will lose it for ever. The cause of equality is much more important than any other things. They must compare themselves to the cause that drove the freedom fighters during Independence. The purpose of the cause of equality and abolishing of reservation should be their only goal. Everything else should be secondary. It is a second war of independence. It is independence from oppression for our own parliament. It is freedom from mediocrity. The purpose is to build a new nation where egalitarian and elite people democratically elected will govern the country. The current government is being run by a bunch of hooligans. Half of them have criminal backgrounds and the rest are not elected democratically. In such a scenario democracy is a farce. If they cannot provide equality the oppression on the basis of caste will continue. Hence the battle must not be lost at any cost. It is Do or Die now.

    Dear President of India, Ever since the independence of the country the upper castes of this country have been made to suffer in the name of providing equality and social engineering. The reservation and providing 50% seats in educational institutions is a form of oppression against the upper castes of the country. The upper castes of this country have been tolerating these brutalities by the constitution and the parliamentarians for last 60 years. We cannot tolerate anymore. Our children are suffering due to these oppressive activities. Even peaceful protests by us leads to indiscriminate lathi-charge by powerful politicians. We hence ask for the division of this country along the caste lines and allow us to live separately and peaceful. We cannot suffer anymore oppression in the hands of our own parliamentarians. we will stay in our part of the country peacefully without troubling you folks. Pls. request the parliament to formally divide this country into two halves. thanking you.

    Comment by raj yashwant — May 26, 2006 @ 7:58 am

  23. Please read these comments to know how important it is to stop the reservations and get rid of the caste system.

    ”We are the only nation in the world were people fight to be called backward rather than forward.”
    - Narayan Murthy

    “India is ready to discuss racism as long as it is in other countries, but not caste in its own backyard.”
    - Dipankar Gupta, professor of sociology , J.N.U. New Delhi

    ”In place of appealing for removal and abolishing this old curse on India, all the Indians have been shamelessly accepting the caste system imposed upon by their Religion. People are fighting against the reservation quota. Is there a single sensible person who wants to fight against the caste system which is the main reason for the quota ? ”
    - Damien Rebello

    Caste conscious lunatics and live in this lunatic asylum, of course against our will, and ‘blessed’ with an eternal curse of associating with the insane. The Indian caste system is pointedly diabolical. It is a real curse.
    - Swami Vivekananda

    Year 2006 : Indian newspapers carry daily stories of atrocities against Dalits or young couples being killed, sometimes by their own families, for daring to fall in love with someone from another caste. The caste based communities in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh have militants to terminate people belonging to the other caste. In spite of all this the Indians think that they are making progress.
    - from DailyNews U.K.

    Nobody is saying that the caste system should be praised, for it has indeed degenerated India’s self-pride.
    - Francois Gautier

    Without question, caste system is the curse for India, and it has humiliated millions through the ages. Caste is India’s sorrow, the apartheid that makes Indians hang their heads in shame. Caste serves as the prime reason for conversions even today.
    - Barbara Crossette

    So you see to what extent this disgraceful caste system has taken us? Our political parties trade on it, our governments use it, our police connive at it. There is a nexus of criminals, police and government, as everybody knows, and we suffer.
    - Shri Parthasarathi

    India’s real curse lies in the fact that, 57 years after Independence, people continue not only to face daily injustices, but they can be murdered, raped and viciously humiliated merely because they have tried to break out of the caste trap to assert their rights as equal beings.
    - (Human Rights Report)

    Comment by Vinay Lohar — May 29, 2006 @ 7:33 pm

  24. I quite like the quote by Mr Murthy (Infosys) – there is no sense of self respect left within the so called backward classes which still seem to yell and make themselves known as backward even after 50+ years of independence. How long do you intend to stay that way? did you know that your grandparents and parents had a free school, free college, free post graduation, that they received large chunks of money as scholarships (why did the government abuse this word?) which they spent on everything but their education and then they were also given a job at the end of their academic term regardless of whether they actually studied? did you know that for every one of you getting a job just because you belong to a backward caste there are hundreds of hardworking students waiting in line only to be dissappointed by the lack of value and respect to meritocracy? did you know that there is a majority waiting in silent resentment over this injustice which may as well burst out? did you know where this is all going? invariably you will be identified as backward if this reservation policy goes ahead to implementation, invariably the population will start to recognize the importance of caste all over again and invariably the very thing that this reservation policy set out to address will be on the table as an even bigger issue!

    Comment by KK — May 29, 2006 @ 11:38 pm

  25. There have been a lot of discussions, talks, and opinions flying around about the reservation issue recently. I have witnessed many policy debates recently. They include Narmada dam issue recently to Outsourcing debate and Anti-war protests in the United States a couple of years ago. There has been something fundamental in all these that irks me, and that I will like to share.

    We often form a very black or white opinion on an issue and then try to justify it. This is risky — trying to justify our stand, we often compromise on reason. I have seen many absurd arguments, both for or against reservation, in print or television media. They are often more of emotional outbursts that won’t pass the test of a logically coherent argument.

    It is understandable that people get emotional and agitated on issue such as reservations. However, I don’t think emotions ever solve problems. If you feel strongly about something and I feel the exact opposite, it is difficult for us to agree — emotions often override our understanding and closes our mind. I think consensus is reached when different parties sit down, list out some basic assumptions about the issue, and work out a framework for using logic and data to use further conclusions. Then, one digs out that data, plugs that into the agreed upon framework, and agrees on whatever results.

    I will now indulge in a similar thought experiment on reservations.

    Lets begin with the basic assumptions of reservations:
    - There are some easily identifiable (or verifiable) underprevileged (economically or socially) groups of people.
    - Reservations are justified for these underprevileged groups on one of the following grounds:
    – The underprevileged members had fewer or worse education opportunities and thus haven’t been able to perform on par with the rest. Their current performance is not a true indicator of their true aptitude and efforts; when given equal opportunities as the rest of the society, they will peform better than their current performance indicators. Therefore, selection critera must be relaxed for them. [True merit theory]
    – Giving opportunities to anyone will improve his family condition. This improvement will be more for a family worse off than the rest of the society. Thus, it maybe better to compromise even on the true merit because of the net gain to the society. [Net worth theory]

    The questions that are asked now are:

    - Should we have reservations — are the present reservations justified?

    This depends on for whom. The critera, atleast theoretically, could be gender, caste, location, occupation, religion — anything that meets the criteria. It is reasonable to take economic income levels as indicator of well-being. One can find the most backward segments of society by looking at average income/income distribution in census. These are the sections that maybe reserved for.

    - Are reservations currently being misused?

    An argument against reservations is that most of those availing the benefit don’t need it. It is mostly the rich who avail it. This is a matter of implementation. Abuse a good idea doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be implemented. It should be, but it should also be supported by abuse prevention mechanisms.

    Incase of reservations, this is technically easy. Just track the average income level of all availing reservation; marked difference between this and the community income suggest misuse.

    - If reservations, then how much?

    This will work out different for the two plausible justifications for reservations.

    The first is true merit theory — that the current performance indicators of the underprevileged doesn’t reflect their true abilities. It is reasonable to assume, however, that over a period of few years of similar education or work, they will reflect their true potential.

    The goal then should be to lower the bar for the underprevileged just enough so that the average last year or last semester performance of those admitted under reserved seats matches that of the rest. The reservation measure then could then be either this percentage of seats, as it is now, or the percentage marks “discounted” for the underprevileged.

    We argued that a meritorous underprevileged student who has availed the benefit of reservation once, say to get admission into a college, should be be regarded similarly with the rest by graduation. He must not have the reservation option at higher level of education or for employment. Thus, reservations at higher education level and for employment don’t seem to make much sense. This argument could be extended to restrict exercise of reservation benefit to just once per person or family.

    The second argument for reservation suggests compromising on true merit for the upliftment for the underprevileged. This again could be measured by simple book-keeping. Measure the difference between family incomes before and after availing reservation. If this is higher for reserved for non-reserved, there is a net social gain. With lower merit, this difference decreases and eventually matches that of a well-off non-reserved quota student. That is the optimal reservation level.

    This approach is not flawless. Policy is always macro. Even the most perfect policy design will look at the overall statistics and optimize the net gains. There will always be advantaged or disadvantaged. While it is difficult, I don’t think there is any choice — those suffering first hand due to reasonable policy changes will probably have to live with it.

    So much for a model for reservations. I am quite liking these thoughts — it will be cool if someone can actually do a solid conclusive data backed model on the issue. Its probably unfair on our part to expect our not-so-worthy politicians to do the same!

    Comment by Arvind Saraf — May 30, 2006 @ 2:57 am

  26. reservations should not be given.its very sad thing that one of the factors effecting our great country’s development is RESERVATIONS.if india is a democratic,secular country why the government is giving reservations based on caste and showing discrimination?merit are not being given respect in our country.EQUALITY should be there.dont kill merit.

    Comment by deepthi — June 1, 2006 @ 12:12 pm

  27. Nice comments there, Vinay Lohar. The world knows India better than the Indians themselves.

    We should indeed get rid of the caste system in Hinduism first. It has ruined India.

    Unless the caste system is destroyed the reservation quota will last. So lets get rid of the dissease from it’s roots.

    Comment by Rashmi Trivedi — June 3, 2006 @ 7:24 pm

  28. Good comments Arvind Saraf. KK your comments are outrageous and disgusting. Please talk sensible stuff.

    The basic problem we face is politicians and caste system as Rashmi says. You are talking like a rowdy KK. Please remember our war is against the quota system and the caste system and not against any community. People like KK give a bad name to such a struggle which makes it look like open vs backward. This is not the case.

    We are one. Our country is one. It is high time that everyone understands this.

    Comment by Ramakumar Subramanian — June 9, 2006 @ 8:32 pm

  29. Caste-based reservations is anti-evolutionary!

    Comment by Shahryar — June 15, 2006 @ 4:42 pm

  30. [...] Now I find that a few of my arguments and concerns have already been expressed in a very lucid manner by Atanu Dey at The Indian Economy blog. Here’s another one. And another. There’s more promised and I’m looking forward to it. [...]

    Pingback by www.mixedbag.in » Blog Archive » The Economics of you-know-what — December 13, 2006 @ 1:14 pm

  31. The upper caste people have mercilessly suppressed the lower caste people for centuries. unless reservation based on caste is made available to them no one will worry about them for ever. The reservation based on caste should exist till all people reach equal heights

    Comment by Siva — June 7, 2007 @ 3:42 pm

  32. excellent

    Comment by Himangshu Thakur — July 17, 2008 @ 5:52 pm

  33. i dont know why people worry about reservation when they are going to face an oil crisis. If they dont solve oil crisis now, we all will die within 4 years. What’s the point about reservations if we are not alive.

    Comment by satish — July 17, 2008 @ 6:12 pm

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