Yes, after a proper debate

Yes, after a proper debate

The demand for reservation in private sector jobs is back on the agenda of caste politics in India. Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar recently flagged the issue, supported later by RJD's Lalu Prasad Yadav and BSP's Mayawati. A year ago, the National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC) recommended 27% reservation for OBCs in private sector entities. It was then supported by all political parties, including the BJP. Sadly, reservation is no longer an affirmative tool to promote social justice, but one to reap electoral dividends. Political parties are more interested in populism than seriously looking at the question of marginalisation of certain communities with policy commitments.

Do we need reservation in the private sector? Or do we need to audit the working of existing reservations in the public sector first and then move to the private sector? For me, the answer is 'yes' and 'why not' for these questions.

We first need to audit the present system of reservations in the public sector in terms of 'what we aimed to achieve', 'what we have achieved' and 'what is left to achieve' by creating a database using government and non-government agencies. We need to assess the aggregate outcome in terms of socio-educational progress of the marginalised groups and accordingly devise measures to overcome the gaps.

Let the incentive of reservation percolate down to that group/family among Dalits and OBCs who could not get the benefit of reservation so far. Similarly, we also need to revisit the "religious sanctity" of SC, ST and OBC categories and incorporate similarly placed caste groups in Christian and Muslim communities in these categories so as to equalise the benefit of aggregate outcomes of reservation.

After assessing the outcome of reservation in the public sector, we have to seriously consider the possibility of ensuring fair representation of the marginalised communities in the private sector. In this regard, the idea of reservation in private sector should be taken in the best spirit of expanding the boundaries of social justice to the private realm. It is certainly long overdue.

It must be noted that the majority of the Indian workforce work in the unorganised sector and only a miniscule workforce is engaged with the organised sector, both private and public. It is also a fact that a substantial majority of the marginalised classes are engaged in unorganised sectors and thus ensuring their representation in the private sector, too, will be a positive step forward. Here, I am not using 'marginalised section' only in terms of OBCs but also Dalits, tribals, women, disabled, economically backward minorities and any other economically backward classes.

It is quite visible that the Indian government is withdrawing since the early 1990s from not only the public sector but also from welfare activities. Given this trend, there is a strong need of protective policy initiatives to address the exclusionary barriers in the private sector. This measure will reduce the possibility of hostile rejection of the marginalised classes by private employers in the name of merit, efficiency, competitiveness and compatibility.

Hold robust dialogue

Do we need to hastily accept the proposition of private sector reservation? No, we first need a meaningful dialogue and discussion with and between stakeholders like the government, private sector companies, civil society groups and the general populace to create the conditions to work out the nitty-gritty of legislation to implement such reservation.

Second, we need to restrict the reservation policies, at the moment, only to medium and large-scale industries and corporations due to the reason of their institutional and economic viability. Third, there should be effective monitoring and surveillance, with adequate legislative and judicial remedy, so that no private company should be able to discriminate, stigmatise, terminate or harass on the basis of social marginality of the employee.

Fourth, reservation in accordance with the proportionality principle should be avoided for the time being. Instead, there should be a 25% quota reserved for the socially marginalised, who should be appointed from among the basket of marginalised groups consisting of Dalits, OBCs, religious and other minorities, women, disabled and so on. This must be in accordance with the principle of comparable merit, non-representation of the group and the equal opportunity framework.

Fifth, we must monitor the beneficiaries of reservation and exclude the 'family' whose second generation has already taken advantage of this system so that the benefits should not be confined to a particular family, group, caste or region for all time to come. In fact, a mechanism of rotating reservation system should be adopted so that no one from the marginalised section is left out.

Sixth, the duration of this system should be fixed for five years, with regular annual reports, and should not be extended beyond 15 years.

Seventh, the employer should work on enhancing the educational, vocational and communication skills of the employee belonging to the marginalised section so that he/she can fit in the overall culture of the private sector.

Eight, there must be a guideline on the transparent procedure for advertising, hiring, promotion and dismissal to help the marginalised sections to secure fair participation in private sector employment. There must also be an effective monitoring of the wage differential, access to training and occupational segregation, to achieve greater equality and avoid intentional discrimination.

All stakeholders, including civil society, should come forward with a plan backed by a strong conviction that the marginality of socially oppressed groups must be removed.  

(The writer is Director, Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy, Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Hyderabad)

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