India’s cast politics for vote catching – UPA mulls constitution change

August 28, 2012 at 6:13 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Tread carefully

(Hindu editorial August 28, 2012)

 

The Central government’s decision to amend the Constitution to provide for reservation for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in promotions in government service is a welcome move, though it is fraught with risks if implemented without careful thought and adequate groundwork. The SCs and STs are grossly under-represented in the upper echelons of government — as indeed they are in upper management elsewhere — and every effort must be made to undo this injustice brought about by centuries-old practices of social discrimination. However, this issue was before a constitution bench of the Supreme Court in 2006, which ruled that the state had to “collect quantifiable data showing backwardness of the class and inadequacy of representation of that class in public employment” before providing for reservation in promotions. Thus, even now, there is no bar on reservation in promotions. In the 2006 judgment on the extent to which reservation is permissible, the constitution bench had noted that the ceiling of 50 per cent, a concept of creamy layer and the statement of compelling reasons (backwardness, inadequacy of representation and overall administrative efficiency) were all constitutional requirements “without which the structure of equality of opportunity in Article 16 would collapse.” Any amendment then would have to frontally deal with Article 16 providing for equality of opportunity in matters of public employment. Otherwise, the legislation might fail before a challenge in the Supreme Court, and would come across as little more than a political ploy to win the support of the weaker sections.

Earlier, on the question of reservation for Muslims in Andhra Pradesh, the failure to back up the move with concrete data on backwardness and inadequacy of representation led to the effort being thrown out by the courts. The Union government must not repeat this mistake. Nor should it ignore complications like the sharp narrowing of the pyramid from the level of joint secretary upwards in the Indian Administrative Service. This is where actual data on the under-representation of SCs and STs in senior posts is essential. On the other hand, any quota for promotions should not end up becoming a ceiling for deserving SC and ST officers. There are no simple solutions, but if the government is sincere about making its offices truly representative, all obstacles can be overcome. However, if the government produces a hastily drafted amendment with the sole intention of political posturing, the entire effort would be struck down by the courts.

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Political brinkmanship or genuine desire to lift the lower casts and tribes — Ponder before taking the plunge (My views)

That the country has miles to go before it completely undoes the injustice and humiliation heaped on the lower casts and tribes for centuries is undeniable. Therefore, the deprived classes’ clamour for higher reservation quota for longer periods deserves urgent attention. But, the haste with which the UPA government intends to promulgate an ordnance to amend the Constitution to provide for reservations for Scheduled Casts and Scheduled Tribes is likely to be a still-born baby.

A Constitution Bench of the Apex Court had delved into the matter and concluded in its judgment in 2006 that concrete and quantifiable data about the overall population of the SCs and STs, the extent of backwardness and their representation in the civil service and other managerial jobs in the government must be gathered before the government sits down to fix the quota limits. So far, this has not been done. This is the reason why one such initiative by the Andhra government fixing additional quotas for the Muslim minorities was struck down by the Andhra High Court.

In the 2006 judgment, the Supreme Court had clearly stated that the 50% quota limit, the concept of ‘creamy layer’ and the statement of compelling reasons that included backwardness, inadequacy of representation and over-all administrative efficiency were in tune with the Article 16 of the Constitution. These measures, the Court had felt, went a long way to ensure equality of opportunity mentioned in the Article 16 of the Constitution.
Clearly, the backwardness data sought by the Supreme Court has not been coalesced so far. So, to bring in another amendment through an ordnance or through voting in the Parliament will invite challenge in the Supreme Court again. Logically, the Court will again strike it down.

If the UPA is indeed sincere in alleviating the distress of the under-privileged classes, let it go about it in a manner where the legislations stand the scrutiny of the highest judiciary. Otherwise, it would be perceived as a PR gesture, with eye on the vote bank. The SCs and STs will easily see through this cosmetic exercise and punish the UPA for its indulgence in cast politics.

broadbase.knowledge@gmail.com

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