Quota in private educational institutes: Opposition from sector, threat of student protests may keep reservation at bay

It's the day anti-reservationists feared the most —  the government has announced its decision to bring in quota in the private sector. Sure, administrations in the past, too, have made such declarations, but this time, the Narendra Modi government seems determined to get legislations passed to this end.

On 9 January, the Rajya Sabha passed the Constitution (124th Amendment) Bill, 2019, granting 10 percent reservation to economically weaker sections of the general category. Days after the BJP-led Centre bulldozed its way through Parliament to pass this law, Human Resource Development Minister Prakash Javadekar, on Tuesday, announced that the State will implement this quota — along with reservations for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes — at private institutes as well in the coming academic year, starting July.

Javadekar said the reservation will apply "across 40,000 colleges and 900 universities in the country", which includes private sector higher education institutes. He also said that the number of seats at these institutes will be raised to allow for this reservation, and that the University Grants Commission (UGC) and All India Council for Technical Education(AICTE) will be provided the "operational mandate" within a week to implement the quota.

Quota in private educational institutes: Opposition from sector, threat of student protests may keep reservation at bay

File image of Union minister Prakash Javadekar. PTI

To extend reservations to private institutes, the government is drafting a bill, which sources said is almost ready. The Centre is also confident that it won't face opposition in getting the bill passed in the upcoming session of Parliament as the Constitution (93rd Amendment) Bill brought in under the UPA-I regime in 2006 had first paved the way for quota in the private sector.

When clubbed together, quota for SCs, STs, OBCs and the general category "poor" would mean that 60 percent of the seats at higher education institutes would be reserved.

The private sector has, for long, resisted being brought under the reservation ambit citing several reasons, lack of funds to take on higher number of student being one of them. Other arguments against private sector reservations include taking away opportunities from the more deserving — the age-old merit versus quota debate — and industries putting forward that introducing quota in the private sector could hurt both their productivity and efficiency due to lack of skilled labour.

It may be noted here that the Supreme Court had ruled against allowing quota for the "economically backward" as the Constitution defines "backward" on the basis of social and educational standing. (This alone could prove to be a major legal hurdle for the government, as the basis for the 10 percent quota is people's economic backwardness, along with the fact that the move also violates the Supreme Court's 50 percent cap on quota.)

Another major argument, which is also a threat in this case, is protests against introducing quotas in the private field. Since the Mandal Commission came out with its recommendations in 1980, the opposition to even the concept of quota has been widespread. Moreover, when the recommendations of the panel were finally adopted by the VP Singh government in 1990, caste-based protests erupted across the country, with several students also losing their lives in the aftermath.

Now, with added reservations in the fray taking away even more from the (not-so) financially stable students from the general population, agitations are inevitable, and the government must brace itself for them.

On the other hand, there are those who argue in favour of private sector reservations, pointing out that there should be a level playing field in both sectors — both in education and jobs — and that if the public sector is carrying out its social responsibility by providing reservation in jobs (we'll come to this later) and education, the private sector should be no exception. Another point often made is that the private sector receives a number of concessions from the government, including availing loans from public sector banks, tax relaxations and land at lower rates as their setups there would help create jobs.

While these might seem valid arguments to parties approving of quota in the private sector, the Centre's announcement is likely to face backlash from private institutes, claiming they don't have the resources to take in the additional lakhs of students. Some might even argue that the reservation could compromise on the standard of students graduating from the institutes.

Furthermore, this reservation in private institutes could segue into a demand for quota in private sector jobs, where stakeholders could come up with a similar counter, saying it would affect their quality of services and take away from international standards. Here, the argument by those who approve of quota in private firms is that the current job market in the public sector is abysmal, having stagnated over the years, and that liberalisation and privatisation policies had altered the face of the employment situation in India. As a result, demand for higher reservation in public jobs does not meet the ultimate goal, because of which parties and activists demand reservations in the private sector.

File image of protests against reservation in Uttar Pradesh. Reuters

File image of protests against reservation in Uttar Pradesh. Reuters

As Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar had said in 2017, "Today, the private sector provides more jobs in comparison to the government sector. Reservations should be implemented in the private sector."

But so far, the government's announcement has not garnered much positive responses from the sector it affects.

N Sukumar, a faculty member at Delhi University, was quoted as saying by The Telegraph that the move was only a tactic by the government to pacify the SCs, STs and OBCs who are miffed with the new reservation for the general category poor. "The government wants to satisfy the SCs, STs and OBCs. That is why it announced reservation in private sector institutes. Public sector institutes don't implement reservation properly for SCs, STs and OBCs. Private institutes won't implement it, saying they are not funded by the government," Sukumar was quoted as saying.

Others echoed his views in part, expressing scepticism about the timing of the announcement — as they did when the quota bill was announced and passed in Parliament. The popular opinion is that the BJP is paying lip service before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, trying to appease the upper-castes it believed are now disillusioned with the party and its constant focus on backward classes.

If we look at how the government rushed to have the quota bill approved and passed by Parliament, it's clear that it will leave no stone unturned to ensure that its latest veiled pre-poll promise gets the sanctions it needs before the election dates are announced. But for this, the Central government needs the cooperation of state government, as well. As the president of the Education Promotion Society of India G Viswanathan said, the Centre "cannot enforce reservation in state private universities without the consent of state governments".

So besides the Supreme Court's 50 percent cap on reservations, the economic impact of the move, students opposed to quota in private institutes and the private institutes themselves, this is another hindrance the Centre is likely to face in this regard.

With the 93rd amendment bill, the Constitution provides for reservation in the private sector. However, these will remain words on a paper unless a law is passed to back them, and all these arguments would be moot if the reservation is deemed unconstitutional in court, which is highly probable.

Looking at these arguments, we can rightfully conclude that as much as it wants, the government might not be able to bring in reservations in the private sector as easily as it got the quota bill passed in Parliament. Anti-reservationists can breath. For now.

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Updated Date: Jan 16, 2019 16:52:30 IST

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