SC does a right on Jat quota

The Supreme Court ruling which struck down the UPA government’s decision to extend reservations to the Jat community has corrected a wrong.

Normally the denial of a rightful entitlement is considered a wrong, but bestowal of an undeserved right is equally wrong. In the case of reservations, this has been glaring because some communities which governments, both at the Centre and in states, included in the reserved list, had no claim to the consideration.

These decisions are especially wrong because the inclusion of an undeserving group in the list diminishes the opportunities of more deserving groups who are already there. The impact is substantial because the new caste groups which get included are numerous. Their case is heard and accepted because they have big numbers and governments want to appease them. The Jats’ demand was accepted by the UPA government before the last elections only on political considerations.

Jats are socially and economically powerful and have no reason to be considered backward. The government had overruled the opinion of the National Commission of Backward Classes to declare the community as backward. The commission’s recommendation is mandatory, but the government took the decision, asserting that the commission did not take into consideration the ground realities. These realities could only be political and electoral compulsions.

The court has done well to point out that self-claimed backwardness cannot be basis for the government policy on reservations. Arbitrariness and other wrong considerations cannot guide policy. The decisions on reservations need to be based on accurate and current data.

Affirmative action aims to create equal opportunities in an unequal society. But the actions of successive governments in the area of reservations have actually increased social discord. They have been unjust and discriminatory too. The latest such decision is the Maharashtra government’s move to include the Marathas in the OBC list.

The court has also suggested adoption of some fresh norms to determine backwardness. Caste has been the basis for reservations till now but the court has questioned a policy which is solely based on historical injustice. It has suggested norms like gender also to be considered for eligibility. This will, for example, make transgenders a backward community.

Another idea is to look at backwardness as a changing state, and ensure that groups which have attained a level of social and economic status are dropped from the list. These may be debated but governments will shun them. The NDA government will challenge the verdict for all the reasons that the court found wrong and unacceptable. Politics is likely to continue to dominate reservation decisions.

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