The controversy generated by the Government decision to set aside a quota for Other Backward Castes in specialised educational institutions is important for at least one reason that a chunk of the populace will find the step unjust and unfair in that it will be prevented from sending its children to IITs and IIMs because of a scarcity of seats resulting from the state fiat.

However, seen from the other side of the divide, it makes eminent sense to provide job and educational assistance to the historically underprivileged, in the absence of which a large section would continue to wallow in backwardness.

Indeed, this is what the reservations policy enshrined in the Constitution is all about, the thrust being to help those who have been a victim of the subcontinent's social structure.

But should such assistance be permanent or be conditional on the gap between the historically privileged and under-privileged sections? Since equality of opportunity is an integral part of the Indian republican constitutional structure, any and every reservations policy should be strictly time-barred, and scrapped the moment it has largely accomplished its job.

The Constitution-makers adopted this line when they fixed a time schedule for the reservations policy, as applicable to the Lok Sabha and the State Assemblies, at 20 years (Article 334). This schedule has been periodically extended suggesting that the intractableness of the problem.

Equally it is true that those who have given up their jobs, among other things because of the reservations policy, have continued to make a sacrifice which has had an impact on their livelihood.

Why cannot those from the backward castes, etc, who have benefited from the reservations policy be taken out of its ambit from the next generation, which would not only make the benefits time-barred but also contribute subtantively to the principle of fairness and justice?


(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated April 15, 2006)
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