Not advisable

The idea of mandating reservations in the private sector has for long been a subject of public debate. But the issue has never been consistently in the forefront of national attention, and has engaged it only fitfully, sometimes during election campaigns or when there happens to be a sudden dearth of controversial issues. The occasional debates have not thrown up any wide consensus either. Though there are some people who still question the very need for continuance of reservations in government employment and educational institutions, they are in a minority. Affirmative action as an instrument of public policy is widely supported. Questions are sometimes raised about implementation. One major criticism is that the truly deserving do not always benefit from reservations, as opportunities are mostly availed of by the better off among the weaker sections.

But the proposal to introduce job reservations will invite greater opposition, not only from industry and business managements but from others too. The department of industrial policy and promotion under the Union ministry of industry and commerce has proposed that companies benefiting from various government incentives should reserve about 5 per cent of their jobs for scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. Some other ministries are also considering the move. Industry bodies have been asked for their views. Industry has in the past not been responsive to the proposal. It has also been pointed out that in some states the representation for SCs and STs in the private sector is not less than 15 per cent now. The figures vary from sector to sector, and it is admitted that representation in new sectors like IT is low.

It may not be advisable to force a reservation regime as it will be seen as compromising the principle of merit which makes the private sector competitive. More effective implementation of social and educational policies will better equip those belonging to the weakest sections to compete with others and reduce the need for reservations. Equity and efficiency are not simple categories that can be counterposed to each other in a country where long-persisting discrimination has warped society and individuals. They cannot even be always viewed separately. But mandating reservations in the private sector may turn out to be counter-productive. A system of incentives may perhaps be a better idea.

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