Saturday, November 12, 2011

Diluting creamy layer limit is another example of dirty politics....

Today’s TOI has a story that the Government may be considering relaxing the income ceiling beyond which OBCs cease to enjoy benefits in educational institutions and government jobs. The new limit proposed could be as high as Rs 1 lac a month – a truly princely sum of money which not many even amongst the forward castes make. The ostensible reason for this decision is that in spite of several years of reservations, the actual representation of the dalits in both government jobs and educational institutions is much lower than the provided limit (27%). This is a ridiculous decision. It’s purely political and there is absolutely no logic in it.

I am a supporter of Affirmative Action, even though I worry that there is too much dirty politics associated with it. I wrote a piece on this on September 12th this year (4% compulsory government procurement from dalit firms is dangerous politics…..) in which I argued that AA is required, but the politics should be avoided. Further, there have to be a couple of other rules that must be prescribed.

Firstly, the % of reservations must keep reducing over a period of time. So if we today have 50% reservations for SCs, STs and OBCs, that number must keep coming down with time. The reduction may well take 50 years, with just a 1% reduction happening every year; but it’s important that we recognize that quotas are inherently the opposite of meritocracy and while they are required, they have to come down over time. Unfortunately, our past experience has been different. Like I wrote in my earlier post: Though the original Constitution only allowed for a 5-year time bound reservations policy, the timeline has been routinely extended all the time by all the governments.

The second rule should be that those who get the benefits and move up the social order should cease to get benefits in the future. This is the so called “creamy layer”. This is but obvious – the whole purpose of AA is to provide a crutch to those who have been oppressed for a long time so that they can rise up the social order. The moment someone comes out of oppression, the benefits should stop. The purpose of AA is not to oppress the upper castes by reducing access to resources to them and perpetuating quotas for the dalits. The purpose is to help the underprivileged with temporary crutches. It’s like when the car breaks down on the road, we need a towing van – but the towing van can only tow the car to the nearest service station – it cannot continue towing the car for the rest of its life.

What could possibly be the rationale for raising the cut-off to this extremely high level of Rs 1 lac a month? This is a really high income level. I don’t think anybody in the government makes this much money (at least not officially!). If anyone does, then maybe it’s the seniormost secretaries. So basically, the new limit is not rational – but purely political – it will virtually leave out everybody. Its intent is to completely nullify the concept of the creamy layer. Again, from my previous post of this subject: AA policies have divided the society as children of creamy layers like doctors, engineers, CAs, actors, consultants, media professionals, writers, bureaucrats, defence officers above the rank of Colonel, HC and SC judges and Class A&B employees of the Central and State governments continue to enjoy benefits inspite of the Supreme Court’s specific instruction for them to be excluded. None of the above professionals who work either for the government or for other Constitutional bodies would be disqualified by this new income criterion.

Apparently, the salary limit in 1993 was Rs 1 lac per annum. As per the government’s own statement, the value of money in 2011 has dropped to 30% of its value in 1993. By this logic, the ceiling should have been raised to Rs 3.33 lacs or so. What is the justification for Rs 12 lacs per annum?

Let’s talk about the politics of this. There is an all-out war to capture power in Uttar Pradesh. Elections are to be held in May 2012 and Mayawati is leaving no stone unturned to ensure that the dalits stay with her. The Congress is trying to curry favor with the same community – hence the 4% reservation for dalit businesses in government procurement earlier and now this new definition of the creamy layer. In spite of the fact that the Congress is only the 4th largest party in the UP assembly, the main battle appears to be (at least in media) surprisingly between the BSP and the Congress. All of Mayawati’s attacks are aimed at the Congress. It’s an all out war between the BSP and the Congress. It’s all about symbolicism – the one who appears to be doing more for the dalits may well get their support. In addition, it is also about taking care of the well-off dalits – businessmen, politicians, professionals – who refuse to give up their special benefits.

Brings us back to the main excuse that the government is using to increase the limit; inadequate representation of dalits in educational institutions and government jobs. There are a number of reasons for this. Given the poverty levels that plague most dalits, young children often end up working to earn a living rather than going to school. Even if they do go to school, the quality of education is so poor that they are unable to make much headway. As a result, most of them are unable to enter graduate and post graduate colleges – in spite of much relaxed admission criteria. It’s the same with government jobs where dalit candidates fail to qualify for the jobs – leading to the actual representation of dalits in central services being only 7%.

If the government was serious about doing good for the dalits, they should have thought of addressing the factors that lead to this poor condition. Instead, it has chosen to make a political statement.

The real truth is that politics all over India – and especially in UP – is still fought on caste and religious grounds. The other truth is that we have too many elections – every year, some or the other state is going to the polls. And everytime there are elections, this dirty politics get played out. I don’t think this is going to change anytime soon – one can only hope that economic progress – with better distribution of wealth – makes people step out of their historical prejudices……

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