Fill in the blanks in quota debate

The interim report of the Veerappa Moily-headed oversight committee on OBC reservation leaves much unsaid. To begin with, it does not raise the issue of how the quotas are going to be filled. With the SC/ST this has been a perpetual problem, especially in professional education. Perhaps with the OBCs, it will not be as much of a problem because the gap between upper OBCs and general category students is not large. However, if the upper OBCs are eliminated, the same problems as face SC/ST quotas remain.

The report defers the issue of the 'creamy layer' to the final version, to be submitted on August 31. This issue should, ideally, be at the heart of this discussion if social justice is really the goal. Unless steps are taken to remove the creamy layer, the truly needy among the OBCs will never see the face of elite institutions where reservations are being provided. It is therefore urgent to restrict reservations to the so-called most backward castes among the OBCs. As sociologists have pointed out, these are the artisan or 'service' castes, such as dhobis, nais, telis and jhinwars in North India. A close look at present student bodies in professional education would show that upper OBC representation is near adequate in most institutions. The government can then reduce the quota on justifiable grounds, save some of the Rs 16,500 crore and spend it on identifying and training deserving students for higher and professional education while they are still in school.

In an interview after the release of the report, Moily announced that coaching should be given from class eight onwards to select and train deserving students. However, no thought has been given to the mechanisms for selecting these students. Not a word is mentioned about improving school education so that a pool of disadvantaged students is available to fill reserved seats. Apart from Navodaya schools (which are not restricted to SCsSTs) no other selection mechanism exists at present.

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