Sunday, June 04, 2006

Reservation in India: a points-based system and alternate viewpoints

I can't help it. Reservation (see my original post on this issue for a background) is probably one of the most talked about issues today in India, and hence this is already my third post on the issue in the 10 posts I have made since I started my blog. Browsing Indian blogs, I came across several interesting articles and ideas. The most interesting among them is from Anshuman Ghosh from Delhi/Hyderabad. He agrees with the need for reservations for weaker sections of the Indian society, but proposes a points-based system that gives preferences to people who really need affirmative action as opposed to someone who has already benefitted from this and should no longer require special consideration.

Quoting from his blog:
The way the Graded Points Based Reservation system is supposed to work is -

1) Extent of reservation will be calculated for each individual - just cause you are from a XYZ caste WONT let you in, as it does today
(This is a point against the present system, and in favour of Graded Points System)

2) If you are from a "backward caste" : you get ___ points.
The number of points you get in this clause will depend on which of the backward caste you are from. Aka, to what extent are you the minority. The idea is that minority is given some credit at least, but thats not the sole criteria.

3) Parents are illiterate : you get ____ points
Graduate parents ? You DONT get points under this clause.

4) You are poor (based on annual income of family etc) : you get ___ points
Parents earn lacs ? Affluent family ? You DONT get any points under this clause.
[1 lac/lakh = 100,000 -A.S.]

5) After the total points are calculated, the amount of concession in marks will also be decided on the basis of points (deficit) you have accrued.
This will also ensure that not all get the same 'help', cause the needy need more.
I really like this idea. If this is coupled with good grass-root level education and opportunities-- schools, good teachers, legal and social encouragement to send children to schools, generous scholarships and fellowships, special coaching if required, etc-- this might get rid of our social inequities in no time. This scheme could also include poor people from upper castes (with appropriate points deducted if necessary) and that would immediately get rid of the valid current concerns. In fact if all these were taken together and implemented over a limited period of time (say a decade or two), I might even support 49.5% reservation. But of course the fact remains whether reservation can achieve something. We don't know whether 22.5% reservation for the last 59 years has been able to achieve social parity for SC/STs.

Other interesting articles in the context of reservation:

1. Sam Pitroda, the head of the Knowledge Commission appointed by the Prime Minister strongly opposed the proposed increase of reservation to 49.5%. Here is an interview.

2. Puspa Bhargava, a member of the Knowledge Commission was one of the two dissenters who conditionally supported the proposed increase in reserved seats. Dr. Bhargava was the founder and former director of the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB). In this interview he supports the increase in reserved seats but opposes the "creamy layer" availing the benefits of reservation. He also proposes an increase in the number of seats in general, and it might have been his idea that the government has jumped upon now to resolve the issue. He also suggests a time frame after which the number of reserved seats will be gradually decreased, a suggestion which I am sure will not be heeded by politicians. Interestingly enough, he also suggests setting up 400,000 high schools across India (and says that Central Schools/Kendriya Vidyalayas are among the best run schools in India-- dunno what his source is, but yay!) so as to make reservations unnecessary. I, and I am sure everybody else other than the politicians, would agree completely with him on the last point.

Interestingly, I noticed that one of the comments on the interview is from Sohan Modak (or someone claiming to be him). Prof. Modak very effectively headed the Department of Zoology at the University of Pune, and brought it to excellence. He had also made sure that it was one of the first places in India where a Masters in Biotechnology was instituted. Unfortunately politics among professors (most of whom he had brought in) spoiled the department and Biotechnology split up from Zoology (I was in one of the first batches that suffered because of this). Modak was a great teacher, albeit a very pompous one, and a decent scientist particularly in his younger days). I quote his comments:
Subject: Dr. P.M. Bhargava on the issue of reservations
Whuile there is always the problem of haves and haves not, Bhargawa's comments are far more insidious than they appear. He, like Manmohan Singh, have missed the point by ignoring what do the students in the general category have to fight to get admission in an institution of higher learning than those who are awarded direct entry albeit without having learnt 60 % of their academic material! Whaty a death nail for the National Knowledge commission! PMB's comments are at best assinine as he has never really been a teacher, nor a saviour of reserved classes when practicing employment practices when he directed the laboratory. Did he really practice affirmative action in hiring personnel ? I guess he enjoys the same power play that Arjun singh does! It is really unfortunate that neither PMB, nor his cohorts, have done much to generate the greatest need of India, and that is to provide good teachers without whom the country is doomed. You can take the reservations to 90%, but who will teach? Not PMBs from their high pedestals. I have already asked NKC to help me understand what is knowledge, but none have cared (or, dared) to reply. well, at least not yet!
-Prof. sohan Modak, Pune.
3. A very thought-provoking article by Siddharth Varadarajan shows how castism still exists even in institutes of higher education, how the media is often one sided, and why there should be reservations. I found the article via this excellent blog, indianwriting.

Update 5 June 06 1.49am :
4. Yet another thought-provoking article via indianwriting has Yogendra Yadav discussing statistics of backward castes (OBCs- mainly Shudras in the Varna system). According to the article, even going by the minimum figure, the percentage of OBCs in the population would be around 36%, which is more than the 27% which the government wants to reserve for them. He claims that the non-SC/ST/OBC, i.e., the rest of the population is 33%, which is somewhat difficult for to digest.
Nevertheless, I think improving conditions at the grassroot levels (schools, absolutely compulsory education, good and non-truant teachers, generous scholarships, extra coaching if required and the like) are more important for achieving social equality than reserving 49.5% seats in IITs.
How would people who don't have the grassroot stuff that I described above compete for the IITs with or without reservations? That would only bring down the standards of higher education. And again will reservation achieve anything; has it achieved anything significant for the SC/STs in the decades since independence?


Anshuman Ghosh said...

Thanks for dropping by .. nice assimilation of thoughts out here!

Adios ..

A.S. said...

You are welcome, Anshuman. It was from your post on the issue and the system you proposed (and a few links in your and others' blogs and links through them)that I decided to create this post, as I felt my original post on the issue was a bit one-sided.

Prash said...

I had couple of exchanges with GHOSH, concerning this issue in his blog.

Initially, I was arrogant to his post saying that I am against any discrimination be it positive or negative....(aka, quota system or reservation). I am very sceptical with this idea of point based system.

Before passing a bill on this issue, I think Indian Govt. should take a serious measure and analyse the situation and consider the result of this existing system of reservation and have debate sessions (which rarely happens in India).

I totally understand why India needed, historically, this system to bring up certain people. But society has changed and things have changed...Yes, we need a change..but is this point system is the best solution ? ok, you may ask, if you don't agree with this, prash, do you have any solution or proposition on this issue? My answer is a big nay...but all i say is that I am sceptical on this point based system of reservation.

I am against any type of reservation in the fields of non-Education (that is, only during education ...studying..and not working as techer). Ghosh agrees with me in this issue.

look at the present situation, in many public administrations, how many seats are vacant? how many doctor posts in the govt. hospitals are vacvant because those posts are reserved for people from BC or SC or ST... and there are not much doctors from these communities. I am not going to give more list may go on..

My skeptism may be a unnecessary issue. But I am not really convinced with this idea of point based system.


A.S. said...

Prash, I think you are looking at the matter in a solely black or white manner.
As you agree, there has been extreme discrimination in the past centuries in the Indian society, and these ills are yet to be rectified even after 59 years of independence. See for example the article quoted in this posting: . Society has indeed changed, but mainly in the urban areas. But for the vast majority of the people it has not. India is theirs as much as yours or mine. So I do believe the need for active affirmative action to get rid of social inequities.

However whether reservations, or reservations in its current form, are the best way to go about this, is the big question.
In my academic career in India, I have come across at least two cases where a candidate selected via reserved seats has excelled, and has much more than justified being given the chance (see my post "Reservation" or Affirmative Action in India of 17 May under A Few Personal Experiences) . However that still does not justify the way reservation mostly works today, where candidates with privileged backgrounds avail of backdoor entries.

I firmly believe that affirmative action should mainly include building more high schools and even colleges, and socially and economically (generous scholarships etc) encouraging, persuading, or even forcing weaker sections of the society to study, and be able to compete at all levels on merit alone.
However, if we are practical, do we see reservation going away in a hurry? No.
What would be the best solution then? The above, combined with a reservation system similar to what Anshuman Ghosh suggests preferably for a limited period of time, so that only the people who really require a push get in. In most cases these people would be more likely to push themselves to reach the levels of their peers.

look at the present situation, in many public administrations, how many seats are vacant? how many doctor posts in the govt. hospitals are vacvant because those posts are reserved for people from BC or SC or ST... and there are not much doctors from these communities.

I would argue that this is exactly why affirmative action is required.