Reservation not privilege for life 

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he Supreme Court hit the nail on the head in the issue of reservation in promotions for SC-ST by questioning the wisdom of allowing such benefit in perpetuity. A five-member bench headed by chief justice Dipak Misra pointed out that reservation at the entry level was understandable, but to persist with it for the entire lifetime and applying it even to the next generation would be most illogical.

At a time when the ‘creamy layer’ issue is being hotly debated in terms of exclusion of the financially well-off people in other backward classes, the question posed by the judges opens up the possibility of applying the same principle to the SC-ST sections as well. The creamy layer consideration does not currently apply to scheduled castes and tribes.

The court’s observations must provide keen insight into the evolving thought on the issue of reservation in promotions as the verdict in the case would settle the law for once and all. There have been several conflicting judgments on the issue by various courts. In fact, a vacation bench, before which the Central government had brought up the issue on the plea that the uncertainty was holding up all promotions, decided to leave it to the present bench. That shows how significant this case is going to be in determining the future policy.

It is high time we realised that reservation is a means of supporting underprivileged sections to neutralise their disadvantages and give them a head start. It is certainly not a privilege, the kind of which will become an entitlement for life and then be inherited by future generations. Such a privilege negates the very purpose of providing reservation. If the arrangement does not lift the beneficiaries to a level they can match the rest in terms of competence and calibre, there is no case for continuing such benefit.

The objective of any such policy must be to uplift these sections and not conferring a privilege on a selected few. This is what the Supreme Court judges implied when they asked whether the grandchildren of an IAS officer, who got into service on the basis of reservation, should also get the same preferential treatment when they compete with the rest. There cannot be two answers to the question.

Unfortunately, reservation is not an issue that concerns only SC-STs. Since the total availability of jobs or educational seats is not infinite, reservation in favour of one particular section has an effect on the rest of the population. There are also other deserving people who suffer equal level of economic and opportunity deprivation, but do not get any consideration simply because they belong to a community outside the reservation universe. Any policy that treats subjects unfairly is a bad policy and needs to be changed.