With images of anti-quota protesters still lingering fresh in our minds, the build-up to the case was closely watched and now that the SC has delivered its ruling, its time to see what it means actually to both parties...
Politicians across the spectrum feel compelled to welcome the verdict which is most natural since no politician can offend the sizable OBC vote bank by not welcoming it or praising it as a step towards inclusiveness and equity or historic by taking things to an extreme. Many politicians had expected more and with the exclusion of creamy layer from the quota ambit, they can't hide their disappointments - our honorable health minister, Sharad Yadav and Ram Vilas Paswan fall under this significant category.
Before the day of hearing, one was waiting in an excited state of anticipation to see whether this verdict would let the "overstepping into the legislature domain" argument crop up. Well, it hasn't until now at least. The courts can heave a huge sigh of relief on that.
I have never studied in any "central institute of excellence". But one of my friends who has, gave the example of a rich SC/ST person showing the photos of the huge stretch of farmlands his family owned. Such a person no doubt got into IIT only because his family was able to afford the good primary education and later the coaching to take up the entrance. So, creamy layer exists well and truly and one is not even sure how much of benefits of affirmative action have truly went to the needy. With the absence of any such data, including the creamy layer under the OBC quota ambit would have meant shutting down the doors of opportunity to the truly deserving. Hence, whatever be the merits or demerits of saying that the 27% provision of OBC seats will stay, the exclusion of the creamy layer is a welcome step. To quote, the court seems to have said, the inclusion of "elite backwards" would go against the "basic structure" of the constitution. Hence, legal troubles can be forecast if the Government challenges this.
But this has opened another question. Since the court has now accepted the existence of creamy layer by excluding them from the quota ambit, what happens to the so called economically weak upper castes? Should they continue to bear the brunt of an alleged crime that they never committed in this generation in the first place? The politicians should give an explanation for this and people like Mayawati and Deve Gowda are already out with calls for more quota. Will this ever stop? Probably India is the only country which will pride itself on adding more and more castes into the backward category and certain sections due to "genetic accidents" will no doubt be able to claim the benefits of such "affirmative actions towards inclusive growth" for years to come.
Periodic review, which the court has mandated is another small welcome step. Considering the fact that 14% of general category students who entered IITs last year belonged to the OBC category and 6% of students shortlisted across India for interviews in IIMs were OBCs, review should be done periodically.When the court says, once a person is a graduate, he becomes "educationally forward" and hence would be ineligible for further benefits, (meaning post graduation) it holds perfect sense. But, politicians are already asking for political consensus and review!!
Coming lastly to the increase in seats (54% to make the general category seats unaffected), this will be very difficult even in phases more for the IITs than the IIMs. The scope for expansion is very less in terms of more land for IIT-M and IIT-Powai. Moreover as PV Indiresan, a former director of IIT-M wrote in a national daily, there will be immense pressure to stretch existing classrooms, laboratories, hostels and not to mention being forced to recruit more faculty. How is the Government going to ensure that quality isn't getting diluted with all its antics to keep the general category from feeling let down.
The problem with the whole development is that real progress on the education front seems to be the last in the agenda of our politicians. What else would explain the pathetic infrastructure for primary education in rural areas, teacher absenteeism and dwindling infrastructural provisions even in state run colleges of excellence? Well, I for once don't expect any answers to this either from the HRD ministry or the finance ministry. One thing is certain. We can look forward to "education cess" in the next union budget. As for the poor forward castes, I think somebody will extend them the "benefits" of quota soon. For, don't they also vote?