A new Bill puts in peril reservation for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes
The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Reservation in Posts and Services) Bill, 2008, passed by the Rajya Sabha in December 2008, restricts, cripples and wipes out, to a significant extent, the provision of reservation for the SCs and the STs that has been an instrument of social change and amelioration of the plight of Dalits and adivasis.
The ruling coalition at the Centre stealthily passed the Bill in less than two minutes amid din in the House and without any discussion. It was a strategy employed during the December 2008 session by the Congress to pass many such Bills without discussion.
The striking feature of this Bill is that it removes 47 government institutions from the purview of reservation. These include the Indian Institutes of Technology, the Indian Institutes of Management, post graduate medical institutions, the National Institutes of Technology and five Central universities. Section 4(1) of the Bill says there shall be no reservation where appointments are made for a period of less than 45 days; to posts required for any emergency relief work; to posts qualified as scientific or technical posts, and to posts in "institutions of national importance" and the IIMs specified in an attached Schedule. Sub clauses mention that these concern posts higher than the lowest grade of Group A jobs. The Schedule lists 47 institutions, but it can be expanded at the will and whim of the government without going to Parliament again. There is no concept of "institutes of national importance" today: it is the creation of the Congress.
Even more objectionable is the provision to exclude posts "qualified as scientific or technical." The definition says all those posts for which the qualifications are from natural sciences, exact sciences, applied sciences and technology and for which their knowledge is essential for the performance of duties are "scientific and technical posts." This means there will be no entry for the SCs and the STs in specified public sector undertakings or the 54 mini-ratnas or those PSUs where the minimum qualification for a job is a B.Sc. or M.Sc. in a science subject, or in an applied science such as Microbiology, or MBBS or B.Tech. or M.Tech. or, say, any degree in science.
After thus blocking the entry of the Scheduled Castes and Tribes into specified PSUs and 47 educational institutions, the Bill makes it easy to declare the SCs and the STs "unfit" for any job. Clause 9 of the Bill gives unbridled power to recruiting authorities to set down three kinds of qualifications. One is the "essential qualification": that means a basic degree in science or the humanities. The second is "desirable qualifications," such as experience and so on. The third one is the concept of "suitability." In fact, suitability has no legal backing once the candidate possesses the essential qualifications. The clause has a dangerous proviso that even those who have these three qualifications could be declared "unfit" for a job. By introducing Clause 9 in the Bill, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance dispensation has chosen to drive the final nail into the coffin of reservation for the SCs and the STs.
The bureaucracy gets the licence under Clause 18 to deny reservation to the SCs and the STs as there is no provision for punishment except departmental action — which will be done only after proof is found that such contravention was "intentional." Till now there has been no known case of punishment given to an officer for violating the instructions on reservation.
The UPA agreed on a National Common Minimum Programme (NCMP) in May 2004 which inter alia mentioned reservation in the private sector and an intent to codify into law all reservation. In the last five years the Congress has effectively killed the debate on reservation in the private sector. After the nuclear deal rendezvous and probably emboldened by the survival of the government, the Manmohan Singh government approved this brazen Bill. The government thereby betrayed the commitment it made in the NCMP.
It was as a part of the NCMP commitments that in December 2004 the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes (Reservation in Post and Services) Bill, 2004, was introduced in the Lok Sabha. It was referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee of the Department of Personnel. The committee gave a report in June 2005 inserting a penal clause for erring authorities (imprisonment for three years and Rs.50,000 as fine, or both) and deleting the "unfit" proviso, among others. Clause 4(1) of the Bill did not have anti-reservation provisions such as the Schedule containing 47 institutions and the "scientific and technical" clause for all jobs including those in PSUs.
The government brushed aside the report, re-drafted the Bill and dropped OBCs from its ambit. It did not consult the relevant Ministries. After the anti-reservation provisions were added to it, the Bill went to the Rajya Sabha in 2008. The separate Bill for OBCs is yet to see the light of day. It could be assumed that that Bill will also be similarly detrimental to reservation for OBCs.
The SCs and STs have been fighting for dignity and the right of employment in the private sector and reservation with respect to Class I posts including those of Secretary to government. Instructions for reservation for teaching posts such as Reader and Professor in universities and institutions were issued by the Ministry of Human Resource Development in 2005 — which the latest Bill nullifies. The government has sidelined the Union Public Service Commission and stopped consulting it with regard to scientific and technical posts.
The Dalit and democratic movements based on inclusive concepts have been making progress in the 21st century towards getting adequate representation for Dalits and adivasis in all areas and at all levels of employment.
At one stroke the new Bill has created a situation where all of these are reversed and the historic efforts of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar and the founding fathers of the Constitution are set aside.
Will the Lok Sabha now discuss the Bill and ensure that it is recast without the adverse provisions such as Clause 4(1), Clause 9 and 18, and that it reflects the constitutional mandate and vision?
(D. Raja is National Secretary, Communist Party of India, and a Member of the Rajya Sabha.)