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The Big Picture – Will reservation in pvt sector stem naxalism?

The Big Picture – Will reservation in pvt sector stem naxalism?

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The issue of reservation has been under discussion for decades in this country. While reservation for SCs and STs in public sector came with the constitution, it took many years for OBCs to get the same. However, ever since independence the demand for reservation in private sector has been made in one form or the other. It may be noted here that Dr. Ambedkar himself had made this demand. However, for marginalized groups reservation in private sector continues to be a distant dream. Though some affirmative action has been put in place by some corporates since 2004, the success of it remains remains blurred. Recently, a union minister also claimed that reservation in private sector would bring down naxalism in the country. Also, NCBC recently advised the government to enact a legislation to make it mandatory for private sector to reserve 27% of total jobs for backward classes.

Do we need reservation in private sector?

Arguments in favor:

  • Reservations once accepted in the constitutional framework are not charity which is to be kept away from the ‘meritocracy’ of ‘private’ operations. Like all other constitutional guarantees, India must ensure all its citizens opportunity in all spaces; giving preference and quotas for socially and educationally deprived sections in the private space is therefore, in keeping with this fundamental tenet.
  • As NCBC argues, with the number of jobs generated in the state sector shrinking steadily, for the promise of quotas in the Constitution to have any real meaning, it may be inevitable to extend it to the private sector. An estimate has it that less than 1% (only .69%) of jobs in the country for educated citizens are covered by reservations. Hence, reservation in the private sector is necessary.
  • Fair competition in a mixed economy means that the public sector and the private sector should have a level playing field. When the public sector is being asked to discharge its social commitment through the reservation of jobs, there is no reason why similar conditions should not apply to the private sector that has been given a lot of concessions by the government to enhance industrial growth.
  • It is also true that our private sector takes a lot of money from public sector banks and financial institutions, and there is a huge default in loan repayment and taxes. Those whose land, labour and capital are being used by the Indian entrepreneurial class can definitely seek some modicum of equality in job distribution.
  • Under the circumstances, to call upon only the public sector and government departments to discharge their social commitment, keeping the private sector insulated from the national goal of evolving social justice, would be contrary to one of the basic principles of governance in the country “to provide full equality of opportunity in employment for scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and other backward castes.”

Arguments against:

  • The private sector is known for its innovation and performance and bringing the quota system in this sector would impede upon the progress of nation which is reliant on this sector for generation of new ideas and building a competitive advantage.
  • Reservation of such kind will create a workforce incapable of meeting international standards resulting in loss in competitiveness of industries and promotion inclusion at the cost of growth.
  • While there is reservation in government jobs, employment by government has fallen from 18.2 million in 2006 to 17.6 million in 2012. In contrast, private sector jobs have increased more than a third, from 8.77 million to 11.9 million over the period. It also points out that while there has been 27% reservation for OBCs in government jobs since 1992, only around 12% got jobs. Hence, it is first necessary to fill this gap.

What needs to be done?

The reservation system in India started with an objective of uplifting the underprivileged sections of the society, who were earlier discriminated against in the deep rooted caste system in India. However the reservation system of the kind that is prevalent in India is working to uplift one section of the society at the cost of the other. What India has to failed to do is this context is to build capacity. Mere provision of a place in a company or education institute would not help in uplifting the weaker section, the concentration should be on generation of skill and competitiveness. Also needed is affirmative action, and that is through legislation.

Also, the quality of the education system in India needs to be uplifted in order to provide a equitable platform for all sections of the society to compete fairly. While programs like the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (Campaign for Education for All) have helped, the current state of school facilities is far from satisfactory, with a major proportions of primary schools in the country still without essentials such as drinking water, toilets, furniture, teaching aids and books, playgrounds and computers. The learning achievements of students in semi-urban and rural areas is poor as compared to their counterparts in urban areas. The high student drop-out rates and teacher absence rates raise further questions on the effectiveness of the education system. As a nation we should hope to empower the underprivileged rather than sympathising with them and giving them the option to escape the hard route. Offering them the same quality of education and training will go a long way in developing them and helping them rise above the ‘underprivileged’ status.

Relation between reservation and naxalism:

Experts see no relation between reservation and naxalism. Lack of jobs is one of the reasons behind people joining naxalism. But, it is not the only reason behind this. Other reasons include non-availability of land, poverty, lack of jobs in general or government’s apathy. In this instance, forcing reservations on the corporate sector will not work and can also prove counterproductive.

Do we need reservation at all?

The reservation system is fair as far as it creates skills and makes the underprivileged more employable. For this it is imperative for the government to identify the section that needs to be uplifted and support them with financial aid and capacity building (free quality education and training). Focusing on reservations in jobs as a way of uplifting the weaker sections is a very myopic view of the situation. These people need to be made tougher and capable of fighting out a fair battle.

Conclusion:

Quotas are no silver bullet that deliver social justice. The only way to ensure that is to level the playing field, through better education and training, and a constant vigil that would ensure action against those who undermine the equality for all promised by the Constitution.