The government recently decided to begin the process for establishing the National Commission for Socially and Educationally Backward Classes with Constitutional status in place of the National Commission for Backward Classes. Its intention is to tackle the increasing demand for reservation by an increasing number of castes across states.
- The usefulness and effectiveness of the commission depends on the functions entrusted to it and its composition.
The name of “National Commission for Socially and Educationally Backward Classes” is correctly chosen in line with constitutional terminology. In 1951, Jawaharlal Nehru insisted on this name in a new clause (4) of Article 15.
Functions to be performed by the commission:
- Along with the present functions of the NCBC, the National Commission for Socially and Educationally Backward Classes will be entrusted with the additional function of grievance redress of socialy and Educationally backward classes.
- A new Article 342(A) will make it mandatory to take the concurrence of Parliament for adding or deleting any community in the backward classes list. This will introduce greater transparency.
What is to be ensured?
Socially and educationally backward classes require not only list-inclusion and reservation but also comprehensive and holistic development and advancement of each community towards equality with Socially Advanced Castes (SACs) in all parameters of development and welfare. In view of this, the Commission should be entrusted with the work of advising and guiding the Centre and the states regarding measures undertaken and required to be undertaken; monitoring their effectiveness and the progress of backward classes and all other related tasks.
The existing statutory composition of a judge as chairperson, a central secretary-level officer as member-secretary, a social scientist and two persons possessing special knowledge of matters relating to Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEdBCs) should continue. All five members should be selected on the basis of objectivity, repute earned through long and sincere service for backward classes and knowledge and experience of society, social backwardness and developmental processes relevant to the advancement of SEdBCs. They should not be attached to any political party.
To infuse confidence in the SEdBC public, the practice of ensuring majority of membership from SEdBCs should continue. Due representation should be ensured for most and extremely backward classes, who form a good majority of SEdBCs, among them castes of artisans, service-providers, fisher-folk, indigent castes etc. One of the five members may be from a religious minority — the bulk of India’s Muslims and Christians belong to most and extremely backward SEdBCs.
The government should improve its credibility by instituting, in article or rules, the process of members’ selection through a bipartisan collegium.
Now, the real danger that leaders have to protect SEdBCs from is the inclusion of any socially advanced castes (SAC) in SEdBC lists. Certain SACs are making muscular efforts for this.
Another important task calling for the attention of leaders, the Commission and the government is the categorisation of SEdBCs into “backwards”, “more backwards”, “most backward” and “extremely backward” castes with sub-quotas, so as to spread the benefits of reservation and other social justice measures equitably.
What needs to be done?
- The poor and the unemployed who are not classified as people belonging to backward classes, should be helped through means such as scholarships and educational loans, but not through reservation.
- Parties should resist the temptation of using muscular agitations of powerful SACs for transient electoral advantage.
- There should be a common moral code based on constitutional norms and morality emphasised by B.R. Ambedkar, which should be binding on all parties.
Historical background on the reservation:
When the idea of reservations was first conceived, not only was it to be phased out after a decade, but communities were also to be ‘de-inducted’ from the quota list. But the last time such a decision was taken was in the mid-1960s.
Thereafter, inclusion has been permanent as parties feared to lose the support of the excluded community.
Going by the response so far, the odds are high that the road of reservations, bumpy at best, will not be an easy one to pave. The fact of the matter is that the clamour for getting on the OBC bandwagon has increased in recent years. Intermediary castes no longer aspire to ‘go up’ the social ladder and ‘graduate’ to forward status. Instead, more and more castes are eager to go ‘down’.
This issue will confront both government and opposition if the new commission determines that certain castes in the OBC currently do not require preferential treatment any further. The added problem is that castes in the current quota list would loathe sharing the pie with new inclusions because their share will go down correspondingly.
Source: Insights into Editorials