The Indian Economy Blog

May 30, 2006

Supreme Court Intervenes in Reservations Issue

Filed under: Education,Politics — Naveen @ 9:30 am

As a practitioner and student of public policy for the last four years, I have been pleasantly surprised at the outrage expressed in the reservations issue. Maybe I have become un-necessarily skeptical. The Supreme Court has intervened and ordered the government to table the facts related to the proposed increase of OBC reservations.

A vacation bench of Justice Arijit Pasayat and Justice L S Panta ordered the Union of India to answer to three crucial questions:

1. What is the basis of the norms for fixing the OBC category?

2. What is the rational behind fixing it?

3. If the proposed reservation is implemented, what are the modalities and the basis for modalities?

Read Increase in quota will divide nation: SC for the full story.

Hopefully, the debate will now be centred on facts and not opinions. This demand of data is a pleasant development. For bills that have been proposed earlier there seldom has been a popular demand for data (like the earlier Free and Compulsory Education Bill). This is a step forward for policy-making in India if policies are framed in terms of hard data. It would be better if the government gave it to independent think-tanks or research bodies (public or private) to develop the report. The more independent reports out there, the more the quality of debate will be enhanced. If the government constitutes its own review committee, I worry about the facts and their interpretation. But maybe I am again being skeptical!

Hat tip: Reality Check India


  1. Skeptical? You should be cynical. Do you think the SC intervention is going to matter in any way.Our politicians will do whatever it takes( even do away with the SC altogether!) to liberate the backward classes.

    Comment by anr — May 30, 2006 @ 4:44 pm

  2. This is a great development from the government’s point of view also. In my opinion, GOI must be looking to find a way out of this mess. It was kind of stalement till now, since rolling back reservation would be political suicide and on the other hand students don’t seem to be in a mood to relent. Now if SC passes an order saying reservations are illegal, Govt. can atleast tell OBC leaders – “Hey, we tried. But SC stopped us.”

    Of course, Govt can completely ignore SC like the above posted said.

    Comment by Kachru — May 30, 2006 @ 6:06 pm

  3. and what makes u guys think that the Supreme court is not playing a double game? It has termed the agitation illegal and maybe now the whole establishment hopes that the striking people will go home and later they can push the whole thing through when nobody is looking or they are preoccupied with something else.

    Comment by Zeusthegreat — May 30, 2006 @ 6:46 pm

  4. The Supreme Court is frankly, worthless. With the standards of constitutional amendment set so low and with such unanimity in the political class about reservation. The Supreme Court is toothless. The only weapon is “basic stucture of constitution” argument, which would not apply in this case, the already having set a precedent of 50+% reservation based on caste in some states.

    The Supreme Court in the US is powerful because the bar for amendments is set very high. But the court can do very little if 100% of the legislators decided to annul the first amendment (which remember is an amendment itself). Indeed, the 18th Amendment declaring prohibiton of alcohol was repealed by the 21ist amendment.

    Essentially, the moment you cede to the legislature “unrestricted” right to make laws, you have allowed the possibility of the tyranny of the majority and allowed for the possibility of infringement of basic rights.

    In this context, I would say that any action by the Supreme Court that stalls the implementation of the quota would only lead to more far-reaching legislative action to the greater detriment of liberty. Take for instance the recent amendent (I forget the number) which provided for reservation in private sector educational institutions. It was a response to an earlier Supreme Court judgement that had put blocks on the government’s efforts to meddle with private schools/colleges. The same will happen in the private sector jobs as well. The right to property and free association in India exists at the whim of the state. Any action to assert that right will only lead to a reaction that curtails that right.

    Comment by srinivas — May 31, 2006 @ 1:02 am

  5. well supreme court is just the judiciary..if real power lies w/ people aka democracy, once legislation is passed, that is it.
    80-85% percent of “disenfranchised” indians have to be empowered. Some so called upper castes on the fringes will be affected. So be it.
    Mahatma would surely be proud of Arjun, to say the least.

    Comment by andiron — May 31, 2006 @ 6:16 am

  6. so basically the only way left is to defeat the current political parties at the polls. no demonstrations or court cases are going to work

    Comment by Zeusthegreat — May 31, 2006 @ 10:46 am

  7. The SC must understand that people are agitating for restoration of equality in the society and not for removal of the OBC reservation only. At this point of time there needs to be a comprehensive look at the reservation system in the country and an alternative to reservation must be proposed in order that deserving students are not deprived of their future. The whole system of reservation is proposed based on vote bank politics of favoring one section of the society by the government in return for their votes in election. The SC must understand this nexus while analyzing the whole scenario and the implementation.

    The SC must understand that agitations are a result of anguish and despair. The delay in SC judgement would lead to further anguish and their only means of expressing this anguish has now been stolen from them leaving them with no democratically available option.

    While SC has been fair in its decision in most circumstances one really needs to understand the desperation of students. These seats are potentially life altering seats. A person who stands 10th in the exam gets the seat and becomes a hero while the 11th person has no future. The differences between the futures of these people are so large that it cannot be corrected by anybody.

    The answer to oppression of the backward caste is not oppression of the forward caste but empowerment by economical means. Similarly there are lots of economically impoverished sections in upper caste as well.

    The SC must take an objective, statistic and data driven decision which needs to come very fast in order to reduce the agony of the students.

    Comment by raj yashwant — May 31, 2006 @ 1:28 pm

  8. I love how when the airport strikers went on strike, every single person was calling for them to be fired, thrown oout of their jobs. But now when doctors and nurses strike, THREATENING THE HEALTH OF THE NATION, suddenly thir strike only ‘reflects widespread anger and resentment.’

    I am very much against the reservations, but the reactions of certain people makes me think that perhaps they are right, maybe it is necessary. When poor, uneducated airport workers go on strike, they are called the most derogatory names (deservedly so, I might add), but when DOCTORS and NURSES do so, the ramifcations of such childish behavior cannot even get a simple condemnation from their upper caste bretheren.

    Comment by AK — June 1, 2006 @ 4:27 am

  9. AK is just twisting facts to suit his own agenda. what a shame?

    Comment by Zeusthegreat — June 1, 2006 @ 10:50 am

  10. Educated bloggers (and the readers) have been shouting their lungs out saying “no reservation!”. Voices of reason is getting diminished in this slugfest because for most of us it is a black and white argument. Agreed, reservation is not the anwser but if meritocracy’s main premise is level playing field, do we really provide level playing field to all the kids? Some kids especially in the rural areas are denied the education facilities provided for the urban kids. Rich kids still find their way into the premier institutions (if not in India, outside) through their money and power. Is there any analysis about how urbanites garner most seats in the premier education institutions. Is it lack of information or is it lack of facilities that deter the rural students?

    These political parties think only about the vote bank, (aren’t they right? look at the election results in the last round, Left got elected even with their outdated ideas in a most educated state and supposedly most intelligent(?) state). Everyone is very happy to blame the politicians, but they seldom agree that politicians are reflection of “us”. I have talked to lot of people, for everyone it is their religion, relatives, caste and self interest come first in most cases, they have their own strange reasons to justify their stand. However, when issues like reservation comes up, they are suddenly on the other side.

    I agree with other comments here, SC cannot really do much if political parties want to do something. Show me one leader who would boldly oppose the reservation. Most laughable thing is efforts to provide reservations or reduce fees in ITTs and IIMs. Instead of training their guns on these institutions, they should pump the money they spend on II*s, into primary education of the under privilaged (scrap caste based categorization). Let those who want to study in IITs get loans and pay their “high” fees.

    It is good to see that this issue evokes passionate response from so many people, who are usually passive on all other issues.

    I also agree with AK that Strikers are glorified by the very same bloggers who had a different reaction during the public sector employees agitation.

    Comment by sanjath — June 2, 2006 @ 6:06 am

  11. “Zeusthegreat” that was an indepth, well articulated comment there.

    Try to figure out my argument, here let me make it easier for you. I am completely against airport strikers, I am completely against reservations and I am completely against doctors and nurses taking a leave when patients need care. Why don’t YOU make a condemnation. I’m wondering why the entire Indian internet community can go into uproar when airport workers distrupt physical infrastructure, but when doctors do so not even a whimper, probably silently condoning the actions perhaps? Then all an outside observer has to see is how the community treats each social group different, and then come to the conclusion that discrimination is so bad that reservations are needed. I’m not a doctor and I don’t need to use a hospital, won’t ever have to worry about reservations but I’d suggest better methods of demonstrating your opposition to them rather than childish strikes.

    If you’re a nurse/doctor, your job is to serve humanity not to make some stupid political statement. DO THAT ON YOUR OWN TIME.

    Comment by AK — June 2, 2006 @ 6:22 am

  12. AK i bow to ur “supremely pragmatic” and “thoughtful” comments. I have no further comments to make.

    Comment by Zeusthegreat — June 2, 2006 @ 9:55 am

  13. Lets face it. Reservations are here to stay. Do you honestly believe that the government will reverse (or abolish) reservations? For timebeing (at least till we have coalition government, we are going to have reservations. No matter what the supreme court says! /or how many blogs we write :-) )

    My strategy would be to keep reservations for now, Instead, increase educational institutions by 50%, and then in 2 to 5 years slowly phaseout reservations in education. (there will be no protests as we have enough seats).
    If the economy grows as it is, we should have enough jobs to worry about reservations.

    Comment by Raj Kashikar — June 5, 2006 @ 12:46 pm

  14. Hey,

    I don’t think too many readers here will agree with me on this, but, this editorial on India Together makes for interesting reading.

    Besides arguing for reservations, the article also argues for why reservations should take caste into account, not just economic backwardness. I think a similar case could be made for why economic support is simply not enough.

    Another editorial talks about the beneficent effects of reservation on the sections of society they target. Nobody would dispute that they haven’t been enough, but therein lies the rationale for continued reservations!

    Comment by Srikanth — June 5, 2006 @ 11:24 pm

  15. Srikanth,

    Let me try to summarize Aswin Mahesh and Vincent S’s argument in 2 lines. People are being denied basic stuff like access to water due to caste discrimination. Ergo, reserve seats for rich OBCs in IITs. Bravissimo. And they take several 100 lines to couch this in a language that people will fail to see through the basic premise.

    If discrimination exists at the very basic levels try to eliminate it or work toward it. Giving reservations in higher education is in no way going to eliminate caste discrimination at the village well level. Besides, most of the cast discrimination at the village level is practised by the middle castes against the lower castes and the Dalits. But thhis current OBC reservation drive is just a naked majoritarian grab by the middle castes latching on the victimhood story of the Dalits. It is a crying shame.

    Comment by srinivas — June 7, 2006 @ 7:32 am

  16. Came across a fairly good area to debate the issue is among university students at top Indian universities. has a speaker’s corner with the reservations issue.

    Comment by FV — June 11, 2006 @ 1:31 am

  17. The following comment is not strictly pertinent to this particular post, but relevant to the overall topic. I thought I’d sound this off you all at this blog and hear your impressions. It might make sense if one of you can turn this into a separate post. Thanks for the effort!

    In June 2006 issue of “The Region,” an article titled, “If You Lost Your Job…” discusses the benefits of unemployment insurance with a rather counter-intuitive finding of Robert Shimer and Ivan Werning. Please find the full article here.

    A brief background for the readers: in U.S. if you lose your job, you are qualified to receive a unemployment insurance check for about six months, provided you didn’t resign from the position yourself. It’s a common practice for laid off workers to take advantage of this program. The underlying rationale behind limiting these UI checks for six months (I am not sure if it varies from state to state is (using words from the article) is, aa) one might put less effort into looking for a new job, i.e., reduced search effort and bb) one might demand higher pay before taking up a new job (i.e., you may be reluctant to take a job that pays less than the UI paycheck, for example). All in all, the main idea is “declining benefits” is a good way of spurring unemployed to get off their couch and join the labor force. Makes sense, right?

    But now, new research, as described in the article, shows that this common belief – that declining benefits is a good idea – is distorted. The new research says that not only the unemployment benefits should be “constant over time and not declining,” but also that the workers – while they were employed – should be able to borrow and save, thereby enhancing the liquidity for them when they become unemployed. The article goes on to show how they worked it out etc.

    On my first reading of this article, it occurred to me that there are parallels to reservation/quota issue that’s boiled over in India recently. Isn’t it the case that when quotas were set aside initially, they were meant to be phased out – much like “declining benefits”? (in India).

    If the ultimate aim of quotas are to pull the disenfranchised into the work-force, can we say that this quota problem is similar to, for the purposes of economics/policy discussion, the unemployment insurance problem discussed in the article? (setting aside caste for a moment).

    Among the two terms, “insurance,” and “liquidity,” discussed in the article, if we say roughly that “quota” equates to “insurance,” then, as an economics tool, perhaps we were just given another tool, the “liquidity.”

    Does it make sense to say that “Ok, now don’t have to limit ourselves to just “quota” but also start thinking about “liquidity,” and about how to create conditions for more liquidity for the disenfranchised.”? If nothing else, perhaps we can start using the term “liquidity” to better explain, in plain language, the ins and outs of quota system.

    Am I making sense? I’d be the first to acknowledge the intractable nature of caste factor that makes this quota policy a tough one. But, please read the article. It seems to me that the parallels give us an opportunity to apply the lessons there into the current debate.


    Comment by Crazyfinger — June 14, 2006 @ 3:21 am

  18. Reservation IS the answer. Maybe not in its current form, but a ‘reservation’ system is necessary in a society like India. Most anti-reservation supporters do not understand how deep the caste system has penetrated in the psyche of our people through the generations. A Dalit/Lower caste kid is made to realize his caste throughout his lifetime. The ‘last name’ expression change registers strongly in the young mind and self-doubt becomes secondnature.

    To the Anti-reservation folks :Who checks this ‘dilution’ at the grassroot level all throught the country?

    If you are against the rich OBCs getting a free ride, make your stand clear, otherwise this just seems like yet another instance of the ‘higher castes’ teaming up on the ‘Dalits’.

    Comment by CC — June 16, 2006 @ 5:42 am

  19. The Devil doctors are Meritwallahs

    The devil doctors exposed by the IBN-CNN raise a number of questions?

    Are these doctors meritwallahs or from depressed classes?
    Why the so-called upper caste merit wallahs doctors turned out to be devils ? We dont say depressed people cant do it, but till date none has been found in this racket.
    This racket clearly shows why the doctors dont want to expand medical education ?
    There is huge money in this profession which has become synonymous with dalali, anything can be fixed for money?

    The IMA must tell why merit wallahs were found doing this, as it feels that they are the upholders of hippocrates oath in this country. The IMA itself is is battleground of corruption and sleaze, and there are many more skeletons in the cupboard.

    Hacker docs in the dock, IMA promises action

    Posted Saturday , July 29, 2006 at 21:17
    Updated Sunday , July 30, 2006 at 10:59 Email Print
    New Delhi: After CNN-IBN and DIG exposed doctors who cut off beggars’ limbs for a price to help the beggar mafia the Indian Medical Association (IMA) has promised to prosecute the erring doctors.

    Dr Ajay Kumar, National President Elect of the Indian Medical Association has said that the doctors will be arrested immediately.

    “If they are registered with the IMA then their medical license will be immediately suspended,” he said.

    The police have already taken Dr P K Bansal for questioning. He runs a clinic named Orthomat in Delhi’s Old Rajinder Nagar locality.

    Dr Bansal had agreed to amputate the limbs of a beggar despite knowing that the law prohibits amputation by will.

    Another doctor, Ghaziabad-based Ajay Agarwal took money to amputate healthy limbs of a DIG investigator who posed as a prospective beggar.

    People entered Agarwal’s house in Ghaziabad and demanded action against the erring doctor.

    In a sting operation, a team of CNN-IBN reporters exposed orthopaedic surgeon Ajay Agarwal’s unethical practice.

    Dr Agarwal put the fake beggar through a series of medical tests at his nursing home.

    The surgeon pocketed Rs 4,000 as advance for the operation from the team while also giving advice on how the amputation could be made to look legal.

    When CNN-IBN reached Dr Ajay Agarwal at the Noida Civil Hospital, the cameraperson was pushed and abused.

    It was in fact Dr Ajay Agarwal who had referred Dr P K Bansal to the investigative team as part of amputation nexus.

    Dr Ajay Agarwal is absconding and the police are trying to track him down.

    CNN-IBN had also exposed Dr Arvind Agarwal of Bareilly.

    Dr Agarwal, who is also the Secretary of the Orthopaedic Association of Bareilly is now absconding.

    His wife says he has not returned since Saturday afternoon.

    When questioned about Dr Agarwal, his wife, Dr Neera Agarwal said,”If he has not come then how can I tell you?”

    The police are now looking out for him. The Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP), Bareilly, Anand Swaroop said, “We are looking for him and have contacted IMA for cooperation.”

    Comment by mineguruji — July 30, 2006 @ 12:40 pm

  20. The reservation will divide the nation . Really ? The nation is already divided very finely into thousands of jatis which has resulted in demand for reservations.

    Comment by mynameisnobody — November 11, 2006 @ 7:56 pm

  21. Dear political parties and supreme cout judges,
    We are posting our comments, not for enjoyment.It is out of our blood, people getting more then 94% in junior college, they could not get Medical seat whereas his dost getting 60% mark getting medical seat because of caste card, it is ot communal card, this word is liked by most of the politicl parties, for their is mere caste card of SC, OBC.His father may be a doctor, government is not bothering about economy point, but they bother only caste card,for vote card.That is why intelligent people are going out of our country.politicalparties are not bothered, they want their survival to become rich.This is very much ridiculous in the country, that is why people are frustrated.
    Reservation is not only the toll to uplift poor people.Only rich people in SC.OBC, ARE ENJOYING THIS.
    Now muslims are also wants reservation for secularisam, since muslim means the word only secularisam comes, as per our votebank political parties, then christine will ask,jains will ask,parsis will ask, then hindu will become minority in India, our political parties wants only divide hindu votes for their survival.
    This reservation started in TN, to arrest Tamil brahamin upcomingsince dravidan parties and tamilnadu political parties are Anti Hindu, Anti north, anti brahamins, this we have seen our own eyes when Shankaracharya was arrested for petty political reasons,he has been foised false cases.That is why Tsunami affected Tamilnadu.
    If you take census who is backward, then reallity comes, since all the obc and sc people families one doctor is there.
    Hence people do not make a India a Tamilnadu, since Tamilnadu politicians knows only reservation, other then they do not know anything, that is why no developement.they are not bothered in developement.but only reservation, with no industries.That is why dravidan tamils are now in north working in north indian firms, that is why anti hindi is coming down.
    pl give to econolical basis,please.

    Comment by vijay — December 13, 2006 @ 10:19 pm

  22. 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, where 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 Rashmi Sharma — March 12, 2007 @ 8:22 pm

  23. People who are in support of the reservation system argue that by way of giving such reservation, the so called ‘backward class’ can be brought in par with the so called “forward class”. But this is ridiculous & completely wrong.
    It is clearly evident over the years that the reservation system has only benefitted the children of people who have already enjoyed the fruits of reservation, and this irrelevant reservation system can only bring in a division between the so the called “backward class” … one that enjoys reservation and goes up & the other that is ignorant of it and still remains “backward”
    It is really surprising that most political parties are strongly in favour of the reservation system, while most students oppose it.
    This clearly shows that our esteemed politicians are incapable of thinking beyond their vote banks.
    The caste system & the reservation policy based on it are indeed shameful and the sooner we get rid of them, the better our country will be.

    Comment by Navin — March 30, 2007 @ 9:26 am

  24. Reservation must be abolish and Government must implementcommon civil code in india sunil vishwanath wagle from NAVSHAKTI, FREE PRESS GROUP in nariman point, Mumbai21

    Comment by sunil vishwanath wagle — August 5, 2007 @ 8:21 pm

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