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Mainstream, VOL LVII No 8 New Delhi February 9, 2019

Demystifying the SC Ruling on Reservation Policy

Sunday 10 February 2019

by Kamal Singh, Indervir Singh and Chaman Lal

The Supreme Court of India in its recent decision upholds the verdict of the Allahabad High Court regarding reservation in the University. As per the decision, while applying the reservation roaster, the Department would be considered as a unit, not the University. This ruling would have far-reaching negative consequences for the aspirants from reserved categories seeking faculty positions in institutions of higher learning.

This decision would possibly dent the real spirit of reservation as it deviates from the very basic principle of giving equal opportunity to the people belonging to weaker and marginalised sections. Already, the share of faculty belonging to reserved categories in Institutes of higher learning is abysmally low. According to the all India survey on higher education (AISHE) 2015-16 report, the percentage of SC, ST, and OBC teachers in higher learning institutions is 7.5, 2.1, and 25.4 per cent respectively which is too low in comparison with the statutory limit of 49.5 per cent.

Understanding the implications of the ruling?

To understand the implications of the decision, one needs a clear understanding of the reservation roster system. The statutory provision for reservation is 49.5 per cent (OBC: 27 per cent, SC:15 per cent, and ST:7.5 per cent). However, this reservation cannot be applied in a straightaway manner. Its implementation requires fulfilling certain conditions. The existing reservation roster system1 is based on the model roster formulated by the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT). The model roster is based on two basic conditions. First, the total reserved posts cannot exceed 50 per cent. Second, the percentage share of one category cannot be clubbed with another to ensure 49.5 per cent representation. To understand its implications, assume that there are five posts. Then, only one seat can be reserved for the OBC category as reserving two seats for OBCs would increase their reservation to 40 per cent (more than 27 per cent, reserved for them). SC and ST categories, who are supposed to get 15 per cent and 7.5 per cent seats, respectively, will not get any seat because giving them even a single seat will make their share 20 per cent and violate the second condition. As a consequence, the total reserved seats will be just 20 per cent.

Given both conditions, the reservation will be equal to 49.5 per cent only when there are 200 posts. The model roster solves this problem by applying reservation on 200 posts and mandating each replacement to be considered as a new post. In our example, five posts will be initially filled as four Un-reserved (UR) and one OBC, but the replacement of each post (after resignation, retirement etc. of any of the five) will be filled as if it is a new post and the earlier posts are still occupied by the respective categories. According to this system, the retirement of three persons will make the total posts eight which will be divided as five UR, two OBC and one SC. Since four UR and one-OBC are already filled, the vacated posts will be allocated as one UR, one OBC and one SC. This will go on until the roster of 200 posts is completed.

Though the roster attempts to address the problem of under-representation, the system keeps the reserved categories underrepresented for a considerable time period for a small number of posts (the reserved categories cannot be overrepresented as their share cannot exceed 50 per cent).

This can be used to understand the implication of the recent ruling of the Apex Court. We take the example of new Central Universities. New Central Universities, as per the UGC rules, have seven sanctioned posts of teachers in each department which include professor, associate professor and assistant professor in the ratio of 1:2:4. When the new rule will be followed and the department would be considered as a unit for a reservation then the roster will be applied in the order of UR, UR, UR, OBC, UR, UR, and SC. Hence, during the initial recruitment, only 28.6 per cent of seats will go to reserved categories, the top positions in all the departments of the institute will be occupied by the UR candidates and there will be no space for ST candidates (the situation will be much worse if the roster is applied separately for each post in each department).

To compare it with the present situation, let us take a hypothetical example. Assume that there are 50 departments in a University with seven teachers in each department. Thus, there would be 350 posts in the University, of which the posts of professors, associate professors and assistant professors will be 50, 100 and 200, respectively. If the recruitment is now done on the basis of a new rule, then only 100 of these posts (28.6 per cent ) will be reserved, all of the reserved posts will be of assistant professors and no ST will get the representation. In comparison, if the roster is applied to the whole university and each post separately, there will be 23 reserved seats among professors (13 OBC, seven SC and three ST), 49 among associate professors (27 OBC, 15 SC and seven ST) and 99 among assistant professors (54 OBC, 30 SC, and 15 ST). The share of the reserved category, in this case, will be 48.8 per cent which is about 20 per cent higher than the calculation as per the recent ruling. The existing procedure is also more inclusive than the new one.

The procedure given in the roster tries to address the problems of small numbers of posts in the long run. However, this long run is often too long in case of employment. For instance, in ordinary circumstances, a professor, associate professor, and assistant professor serves for about 15, 25, and 35 years respectively. Considering this tenure of the teachers, a candidate from the ST category will get the opportunity only after approximately 35 years.

The fight for the reservation policy is not only about few seats in universities but it has far-reaching implications. Let us take the example of research on weaker sections. If one closely observes the research done in Indian universities, one clear pattern that could be found is that research on the problems of any section of the society often does not happen if people from that section are under-represented in the university. For instance, in a university with a negligible number of faculty members from a minority group (like people from the North-East, Muslims, Sikhs etc.) there is hardly any research done on the issues of that group. With a lower representation of reserved categories, we may face a similar problem.

The underlying motive behind the reservation policy in education, employment and legislature was to empower the people belonging to suppressed and backward classes. It is more about representation. It was a substitute for ‘social capital’ which is possessed by the upper castes. Reservation provides an opportunity for people from the reserved categories to get representation, raise a voice and get a chance of being heard. So in a nutshell, this decision will ruin the hopes and aspirations of candidates from reserved categories in general and the reservation spirit in particular. We hope that the present government, which aspires for ‘Sab ka saath Sab ka vikas’, will wake up and take a necessary call over this sensitive issue.


Kamal Singh is an Assistant Professor, Department of Economics and Public Policy, Central University of Himachal Pradesh, Dharamshala.

Indervir Singh is an Assistant Professor, Department of Economics and Public Policy, Central University of Himachal Pradesh, Dharamshala.

Chaman Lal is an Assisant Professor, Department of Marketing and Supply Chain Management, Central University of Himachal Pradesh, Dharamshala.

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