Higher cut-off for OBCs in Rajasthan raises doubts about quota benefits; 10% reservation for 'general' poor could backfire

If the Rajasthan government implements 10 percent reservation for the economically weaker sections (EWS), it would force 96 percent of the state's population to compete for 60 percent of the reserved seats, while leaving 40 percent of the seats for the remaining 4 percent of the population.

Sandipan Sharma January 22, 2019 07:27:09 IST
Higher cut-off for OBCs in Rajasthan raises doubts about quota benefits; 10% reservation for 'general' poor could backfire
  • Higher cut-off for OBCs (a group of nearly 50 castes dominated by Jats, Malis and Kumawats) is a general trend in Rajasthan for almost all competitive exams

  • In the Rajasthan Administrative and Allied Services exam, the cut-off for men in OBC category was 99.33 percent, whereas for the general category it was 76.06 percent

  • If 10 percent quota is implemented in Rajasthan, under the rule of 15, 96 percent of the state's population would be competing for 60 percent o the seats, while leaving the remaining 4 percent in the general category with 40 percent seats.

Vipul Chaudhary rues the day he applied for a premium government job in Rajasthan under the OBC category. After four years of hard work and heartbreak, he realises he would have had better chances of succeeding had he competed in the 'general' category, without being tempted by quota benefits available to Jat youth like him in Rajasthan.

His story is an eye-opener for politicians and youth who believe reservations is a shortcut to coveted jobs, especially after the NDA government's recent decision to allow 10 percent quota to 'economically weaker sections'. For the truth is, competition for many government jobs is tougher in the reserved category where the cut-off for selection is higher than that for candidates applying in the general — those not covered under any quota — category.

Higher cutoff for OBCs in Rajasthan raises doubts about quota benefits 10 reservation for general poor could backfire

Representational image. AFP

In 2016, when the Rajasthan government announced 725 vacancies for its elite Rajasthan Administrative Services and Allied Services (RA&AS), Chaudhary thought he had it made. The 25-year-old son of a senior administrative officer had been preparing for the entrance exam for two years. And since 21 percent seats were reserved for OBC, Chaudhary was reasonably assured of success.

When results of the preliminary exams — the first of three stages — were announced by the Rajasthan Public Service Commission (RPSC), Chaudhary was shocked. While the cut-off for general candidates was 78.54 percent, for OBC candidates like him, it was 94.98 percent — a full 15 percentage points higher. Simply put, if Chaudhary had competed in the open category, he would have qualified for the next stage by scoring 78.54 percent marks. But to make it as an OBC candidate, he had to score higher.

Even more interesting was the cut-off for 5 percent students from special backward castes — a category carved out for Gurjars and some other castes by the state government but later declared unconstitutional by the high court. In this category, the cut-off was 80.82 percent, again higher than the general category.

In 2018, the same story was repeated. When results for the preliminary exams for 1,014 vacancies in the RA&AS were declared, the cut-off for OBC was set at 99.33 percent for men and 79.64 percent for women and for the general category at 76.06 percent for men and 66.67 percent for women. In tribal areas — where a separate merit list is compiled — the cut-off for Scheduled Caste candidates was set at 75.17 percent, higher than 71.14 percent for general candidates.

The higher cut-off for OBCs — a group of nearly 50 castes dominated by Jats, Malis and Kumawats — is a general trend in Rajasthan for almost all competitive exams.

In 2016, the cut-off point for selection of patwaris (revenue officials) was higher for all three reserved categories, SC/ST/OBC, than that for general candidates. Similarly, for the 2017 Rajasthan Judiciary Service exam, the cut-off for the OBC and general category both stood at 63 percent, with both the SC and ST figuring not far behind at 55 percent and 51 percent, respectively.

Chaudhary cleared the preliminary RA&AS exam in 2018, in spite of the cut-off being higher for OBCs. "What is the point of reservation if you have to score higher than open category students? It's a farce," he says.

A group of OBC students who had scored more than 76.04 — the bar for general category students — went to court and sought interim relief, arguing that the cut-off for OBCs be at least at par with the open category, if not less. Several cases questioning the rationale of reservation if it "is disadvantageous for the reserved category" are pending in the Rajasthan High Court and the Supreme Court.

There are two reasons behind the higher cut-off for reserved category students in Rajasthan. One, the state government, unlike the Union Public Service Commission, applies what it calls the 'rule of 15'. Under this rule, it first clears candidates numbering 15 times the vacancies in each category. For example, if there are 200 vacancies for OBC candidates, it clears 3,000 candidates from the category for the next level. Under this formula, the general category students are considered a separate group, and those who have applied under the reserved category are left out of it. This formula is based on the RPSC’s interpretation of a Supreme Court judgment (Deepa EV versus Union of India), which, it argues, bars candidates who have sought quota benefits from claiming seats under the general category.

The other factor, of course, is stiff competition. Seats in the OBC category are claimed by candidates from nearly 50 percent of the state's population, and many of these groups are financially and academically robust. Also, once the OBC, SC and ST categories are allocated the 50 percent seats reserved for them, the remaining half is left for general category candidates, who are fewer in number, dominated just by a handful of upper castes like the Brahmins, Banias and Rajputs.

Interestingly, if the Rajasthan government continues to apply the same formula for the 10 percent economically weaker sections, it would reverse the reservation situation in a way for those denied quota benefits, the so-called financially strong agda (forward) castes. If implemented, OBC, SC and ST candidates and those from economically weaker sections would cover almost 96 percent of the state's population. Under the rule of 15, the RPSC would allot 60 percent seats to this 96 percent population, leaving 40 percent for the remaining minority, turning quotas into a privilege for the powerful.

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