EDUCATION & EMPLOYMENT: Room for more quota

EDUCATION & EMPLOYMENT: Room for more quota – and the flipside still being mulled, especially for Darjeeling Hills ?!!


New Delhi, July 13: The Supreme Court today virtually lifted its 50 per cent cap on job and education quotas, allowing Tamil Nadu to exceed the volume if “quantifiable data” justified it.

The order implies that any state can now do a headcount of all groups it deems backward, place the numbers before the state backward commission, secure its recommendation for higher or additional quotas, and pass a law implementing them. Such higher quotas can no longer be legally challenged for exceeding the 50 per cent ceiling but only on other grounds, such as a faulty headcount.

Today’s order could open a Pandora’s box at a time many states, such as Bengal and Orissa, are trying to introduce more quotas to woo more communities. It could also strengthen the demand for including caste in Census 2011 as a way of securing all-India data at one go.

Tamil Nadu had through a 1994 law introduced 69 per cent quotas, which was challenged on the ground of violating the 50 per cent cap. The top court had then, in an interim order till it decided on the law, allowed the state to implement the 69 per cent quotas provided it created more seats so that the general category would not lose out in absolute numbers.

But today, without going into the law’s validity, a three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice S.H. Kapadia allowed Tamil Nadu to do a headcount, present the data before its backward commission and seek its nod for higher quotas.

The quota volume in the state can, therefore, rise even above the existing 69 per cent if the data justify it. Tamil Nadu would ideally like 88 per cent reservations.

Neighbouring Karnataka, which had enacted a 50 per cent quota for the Other Backward Classes in addition to 23 per cent for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes — raising the total to 73 per cent — too has been allowed the same leeway.

Till a year from today, the quota volume in Karnataka will stay at 50 per cent, but the state can within that period do a survey of backward communities. If its backward commission then accepts that the data justify a hike to 73 per cent or higher, the state can pass a law to that effect.

Karnataka wants 57 per cent reservation for the Other Backward Classes alone, which means a total quota volume of 80 per cent.

The 50 per cent ceiling fixed by the apex court had been the sole factor inhibiting states that wanted more reservations. Andhra Pradesh had to slash its proposed 5 per cent quota for Muslims to 4 per cent to stay within that limit.

Orissa, too, can now move to reserve 65.75 per cent seats as it had planned, if its demographic data justify the move.

Bengal is mulling an Other Backward Classes quota in state-aided and state-run general degree colleges and universities from the next academic session, although it isn’t clear if the overall volume would exceed 50 per cent.

The 1992 judgment that fixed the 50 per cent cap had itself added a rider. It had said the limit would stand “unless strong and compelling reasons” warranted otherwise. Today’s order makes it clear that a headcount could provide such a compelling reason.


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