Are quotas for promotion in govt services justified? - YES

Harish Damodaran | Updated on December 21, 2012


There are 102 Secretary-level officers in the Government of India today, but just two of Scheduled Tribe (ST) background and not a single one from the Scheduled Castes (SC).

Likewise, out of the 113 Additional Secretaries, there are only five SCs and one ST, while among the 434 Joint Secretaries and equivalent officials, these two groups account for just 32 and 14, respectively.

SCs and STs together make up almost a quarter of India’s population. Yet, when it comes to representation in the bureaucracy, they constitute merely 16.3 per cent of ‘Group A’ Central employees, which rises to 20.9 per cent in ‘B’ and 25.1 per cent in ‘C’ categories.

The posts that they really fill up are at the ‘Group D’ level, comprising peons, attenders, drivers, gardeners, etc.

The above numbers indicate either one of two things.

The first is that our bureaucracy is of absolute cutting-edge quality. It is so capable and meritorious that our Dalit and Adivasi officers — poor chaps — just do not have it in them to make it to the top. Can efficiency be compromised, after all?

The second is that there is something insidious in the selection system at the top, making it easier for a well-connected but mediocre officer of the ‘right’ community to gain entry over a more deserving SC/ST person not part of these in-group networks.

As a dispassionate observer, I am inclined to believe the second – there are selection biases inherent in the system. Nor does it help if the empanelment process is based mainly on the ‘seniority list’ for any batch, which assigns higher weightage to marks at the civil services entrance exam — where the SC/STs automatically lose out — than to actual performance during the tenure of service.

I support quotas in promotions, as it would force the selection system to actively seek out bright SC/ST persons, who are otherwise not even considered because they do not belong to the right networks.

A quota is also more transparent, since it is known at the very outset that 22.5 per cent of the posts are reserved. And these 22.5 in a hundred are unlikely to severely compromise the system, which will still have 77.5 who are very efficient and meritorious.

Representation at the top matters because the neta and the babu are both powerful in India; it is at their levels that policy gets made.

Just as only a woman can tell you what being raped or groped means, only a Dalit knows how discrimination works both overtly and subtly.

While we can debate endlessly about the ‘merits of quotas’, the truth is that before Mayawati became Chief Minister, no Dalit could even file a compliant or lodge an FIR in Uttar Pradesh’s police stations.

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Published on December 21, 2012
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