With weeks to go before the official process of holding the next general elections begins, the beleaguered Modi government has announced yet another decision that is high on optics, but low on substance. In fact, it is nothing short of a political gambit of pivoting away from Dalits and Adivasis, and even OBCs, in order to please upper castes.
The government announced yesterday that a 10 per cent reservation for economically weaker sections in central government jobs and educational institutions will be put in place. Since there is a Supreme Court bar on reservations beyond 50 per cent, and crucially, the Constitution provides only for reservation based on social and educational backwardness, such additional quota would need legislative action, including Constitutional amendments.
While some assistance or relief for poor people in getting government jobs or admissions in educational institutions is, in principle, a desirable policy, this latest ruse of the Modi government will not achieve this. In fact, it will achieve nothing. Here’s why:
High Eligibility Makes It Inaccessible to Real Poor
Last available data from National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) reports, Socio-Economic Caste Census (SECC) report and Labour Bureau reports shows that about 95 per cent of India’s population earns less than Rs 8 lakh per year (which is about Rs.67,000 per month). Most of Dalits and Adivasis, and a substantial portion of OBCs are also included in this. Even then, the remaining so-called upper castes would make up about 40 per cent of India’s population. Similarly, for the other conditions like maximum 5-acre land holding, etc.
What has been done is thus not targeting the really poor – like the 15 crore landless labourers’ households or the 10 crore workers’ households – but a much broader category. Competition among them will be determined by their respective economic, educational and social strengths. Obviously, the poorest, most deprived people will again be left out.
Handful of Jobs on Offer
Excluding the armed forces, there are about 1.5 crore government employees currently, of which, about 34 lakh are central government employees, while the rest are under state governments. According to the estimates by government employees’ confederations, some 20 lakh vacancies are there. If only these vacancies were to be filled up, the 10 per cent new quota would offer 2 lakh jobs only. That’s peanuts compared to the tens of crores of people that will be vying for jobs.
But this is only theoretical kite flying. In reality, both the central and state governments under Modi/BJP rule have been relentlessly pruning government jobs. After the 7th Pay Commission was announced, several state governments openly announced that they would meet the higher pay scales only by cutting down employee strengths. In public sector undertakings, regular employee strength has gone down by 25 per cent since 2014 under Modi.
So, there are no government jobs. In fact, there are no jobs of any kind. According to Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy’s (CMIE) latest data, a staggering 1.1 crore jobs were lost just in 2018. Since January 2016, the work participation rate (share of working population to total working age population) has dipped from 47.6 per cent to 42.47 per cent. There is widespread anger at this utter failure of the Modi government.
The reservation announcement is only a signal to the upper castes that we are with you. As time passes, everybody will realise that the new quota does not mean new jobs.
Hollowing Out Existing SC/ST/OBC Quotas
There is widespread suspicion among Dalit, Adivasi and OBC communities that the Modi government, by announcing this new quota, is abandoning any plan of securing their rights. The reason for this is that in the past four and a half years of his rule, Modi has refused to implement the Constitutional guarantee of reservations for SC/ST. Although, of late, the central government has not been revealing the status of reserved posts in the central government, but in a Lok Sabha reply (#4500, 14 Dec 2016), the government said that among Group A posts, SC incumbents were just 12.75 per cent while ST officers were only 4.7 per cent and OBC officers 13.09 per cent. The statutory reservation implies that there should be 16.5 per cent SC, 8 per cent ST and 27 per cent OBC. At the other end of the spectrum, among safai karmacharis, SCs are nearly 25 per cent while STs are nearly 9 per cent. Similarly, in Group C, SCs are 19 per cent and STs 7.7 per cent.
In other words, top echelons of the government employees are monopolised by upper castes at the cost of SC/ST/OBC employees who have to remain in the lower levels. In fact, in another reply to Parliamentary query (RS #1690, 16 March 2017), the government revealed that there were only two SC and another two ST secretary-level officers among 85 total posts, and among 70 additional secretaries, there were just four SC and two ST officers. Of the 37,166 appointments made by UPSC from 2009 to 2016, just 6 per cent were ST, and 11 per cent SC, said another reply (LS #4500, 14 Dec 2016) while in direct recruitment process just 14 per cent SC and 6 per cent ST candidates were selected from among 8,141 successful candidates in the same period.
In the context of continuing job losses under Modi government and the increasing privatisation of jobs through outsourcing, the demand by Left and Dalit/Adivasi organisations that SC/ST reservations should be made mandatory in the private sector to ensure that these most oppressed sections get some relief has also been totally ignored by the government.
With this kind of brazen violation of Constitutional safeguards and neglect for SC/ST/OBC, the granting of a fresh quota for upper caste persons is a clear sign of the direction in which Modi government is moving. It is just signalling that it stands with the upper castes, though even that is suspect as far as jobs are concerned.
No Preparatory Work
It should also be noted that the Modi government has pulled the usual stunt of a surprise move (remember the disastrous demonetisation and the failed surgical strikes) in announcing the new quota. However, this move is fraught with complex legal and political issues, including passing a Constitutional amendment which requires a two thirds majority in Parliament. There has been no consultative process with other parties or with legal and Constitutional experts. Parliament session itself is ending in a few days and by the time the next Session convenes for the Budget, the Model Code of Conduct for elections may be in force, and it would be impossible to pass the amendments. This shows that the whole move is a typically misconceived gimmick meant for quick electoral gain.
It is more than likely that the new quota move will be rejected by the people in the coming elections because it, in no way, solves the incendiary jobs crisis. What it does is join the list of electoral stunts – like the Ram Temple – that Modi and his Sangh Parivar have been trotting out in the run up to the elections.