Rationale of Reservations: Lack of equal opportunities since childhood for backward classes - a need to urgently correct.

  1. The National Sample Survey Organization (55th Round Survey-1999-2000) clearly shows that only a little more than 1 percent of SC and ST and 2 percent of OBC people are graduates in rural India, whereas those from the Hindu upper castes are four to five percent higher, at over 5 percent. The inequality is much higher in urban India.
  2. Similarly, if the share of all graduates of the country as a percentage of group share is taken into account, with numbers below 100 indicating under-representation and above 100 over-representation, the upper castes (164), Sikhs (164) and Christians (154) are greatly over-presented vis-à-vis the ST (71), SC (30), Muslim (39) and OBC (56).
  3. These figures show that upper castes overwhelming dominate higher and professional education. This is because equal opportunities and access are not available to the SC, ST, and OBCs as true merit-based competition is only possible among equals.
  4. These children who have been given a raw deal in school cannot be told that they forget about their future and the nation will try to only redo it for the future generations.

Dilemma of Reservations: Equalizing Opportunities vs. Compromising Merit

  1. Critics: The critics of OBC reservations say that quotas in Central educational institutions are uncalled for and that most OBCs don't deserve them. The key question is that the quotas detract from "merit" and will thus eventually undermine the quality of institutions like the IITs which have built an enviable global reputation for themselves.
  2. Supporters: Those who call for affirmative action point out the pervasiveness and deep roots of the Indian system of hierarchical social organization, centered on caste that has institutionalized inequality. The Dalits have been the worst victims of this since the caste system considered them "impure" or "polluted". The bulk of the low and lower middle castes, which comprise the OBCs, also faced vicious forms of discrimination and exclusion. This constitutes a systematic denial of social opportunity to a majority of our people, which destroys the possibility of their realizing their human potential.
  3. Our Stand: Those who oppose affirmative action radically, in principle, on the ground that it's anti-merit, are comprehensively wrong in assuming that our society and government run on the basis of merit, as distinct from social status, clan loyalties, wealth, political influence, etc.

Solutions 1: Immediate Initiatives under the Win-Win Approach

A case needs to be made for fair and equitable access to higher education in the country for students from all backgrounds. The need of the hour is to find a "Win-Win" strategy so that no student is denied getting the quality higher education.

  1. Need for many more institutions of higher education: There are not enough higher educational institutions in India to cater to the needs of its population. The government is unable to meet the current demand for higher education and hence private sector should be encouraged to open institutes of higher education and professional studies.
  2. Mandatory Quality Assessment & Rating: All institutions of higher and professional education, across government, autonomous and private sectors, should be subject to scrutiny by Quality Assessment bodies, and a Quality Rating should consequently be put in place.
  3. Sovereign Guarantee for Bank Loans: Banks should provide education loans to needy students on government guarantees for private sector education, which should lead to appropriate employment. Such a guarantee would allow SC, ST and OBC students to avail of private sector opportunities. This win-win situation would ensure that there will be more institutes, thus offering more seats to the students; and, in turn, these institutes will be self-sufficient and self-sustaining. Alternatively, private sector can also be asked to reserve 30% seats for OBC's at low fees.

Solutions II: Toward Sustainability

  1. Level playing field in Schools: Longer-term solutions tackle the root causes of the problem. Ideally, reservations should begin in schools since if schools provided level-playing platforms to the students from the rich and impoverished facilities in terms of quality-education and attendance, there may not be the need for reservations in the institutions of higher studies. Government schools suffer from absentee-teachers, absentee-students, and even absentee-infrastructure. It is unfair to expect the children of the SC, ST, and OBC, most of whom who are products of these schools, to compete with private school students for higher education seats.
  2. Fundamental Right to Quality School Education: Every child in India, irrespective of his caste and community background, must have the fundamental right to quality school education. Those from the SC, ST and OBC backgrounds need special treatments in the schools. They must be given weighted averages that give them some advantages. They need direction, scholarship, and better infrastructure. This can be done by having a common school system or having reservations in specially created schools such Navodaya Vidyalayas (our former Prime Minister Shri Rajiv Gandhi's brainchild for nurturing talented children from the rural spectrum).


  1. Reservations on economic or social criteria? It is often argued that reservations, if unavoidable, should be based on economic criteria rather than on the social criteria. Ideally, it is the economic criteria that should determine the need for reservations, however, in India the possibility of corruption damages the assessment of reservations based on this criteria. Those wanting to avail of reservations would circumvent laws to produce low-income certificates or hide their actual incomes for taxation purposes. Social backwardness, therefore, should continue to determine the eligibility for reservations. Of course, one may point out very rich and affluent parents among the SC/ST and OBC groups whose children enjoy the fruits of reservations. Likewise, one may find poor parents of students in the general category who suffer because of this system of reservations. However, as has been shown above, if one sees this problem in the overall context of the aforementioned communities, the percentage of such instances is negligible.
  2. Do Reservations compromise on excellence? NO, Reservations can coexist with excellence; they are complementary to each other. Reservations should be welcome, as long as they are not seen as an end in themselves but a means towards social justice and economic empowerment for all. The need of the hour is a win-win strategy that can herald the beginning of a revolution in the education sector if India is to emerge as a superpower in the knowledge sector. When we talk about Excellence what do we actually mean- if we talk about the whole nation and its youth, then those who have not got the good education also have to be included in the percentage. Excellence is the individual. As long as we increase the total no of available seats and carry the entire nation with us, we will be called an excellent nation. Not just for a few elite studying in great schools but the masses are given equal opportunity right from childhood.

Way Forward

.    Allow a major private sector initiative to increase tenfold no of available seats. Give Sovereign guarantee for students to get loans without collateral. Control quality not by license but through mandatory yearly quality assessment. - Vinay Rai