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Should there be quotas in the private sector?
April 26, 2006
With just 8.4 million jobs in the organised private sector, as compared to 104 million SC/STs in the workforce, the impact can only be marginal.
Suraj Bhan, chairman, National Commission for SCs
"Even the government has not been able to fill its quotas for the oppressed - private firms will not comply in the absence of laws mandating this."
I am in favour of reservation for SCs/STs in the private sector. There are hardly any jobs available in the government sector in this era of privatisation.
If socially and economically backward sections of society have to be carried along in the country's march for prosperity and general upliftment, they must be given due representation in the private sector, which is presently driving the engine of growth.
This is necessary because the individuals and the institutions controlling the economy today have come up only at the expense of these deprived sections of the society.
In old times, there were luhars (blacksmiths) who would make iron tools used for domestic works, for cultivation in the fields and for many other purposes. Then, there were chamaars (cobblers) who would repair and make sandals and shoes. There were scores of such castes/communities who formed a vital part of the rural economy. They passed on their skills from one generation to another.
Where are they now? You hardly see them. Today, the Tatas are luhars and the Batas are chamaars. What I mean to say is the new economic system has further deprived the traditionally-backward sections of the society - they have been deprived of their rights to earn their livelihood by using their traditional skills.
Having lost their vocations, these people are now being asked whether they have merits and efficiency to work in automobile sector or in a shoe factory! As if those born in privileged castes were born with merits!
How is it that about three-fourths of the secretaries in the government of India are brahmins or some other upper caste? The same goes for the CMDs and other high posts. These are the people who decide who has merit and who does not. How do you expect them to share power with dalits and adivasis? If the people who recruit are from privileged castes, there is no hope for the deprived ones. That is why privileged castes have managed to hold power since Independence despite laws providing reservation to weaker sections.
Reservation in the private sector must be done through legislation, given our experience of reservation in government jobs. Hundreds of posts are left vacant.
Privileged castes and communities have managed to usurp the share reserved for SCs/STs. We are investigating a case about an MP who is not a dalit but managed to get elected from a SC seat. Thousands of IAS/IPS officers have got bogus caste certificates to usurp what was meant for SCs/STs.
If such things are happening despite the presence of laws ensuring reservation in government services, what makes you think that the private sector will agree to accommodate the oppressed sections of the society in the absence of any laws?
Bibek Debroy, secretary general, PHDCCI
"The large proportion of self-employed makes it clear that mere quotas in jobs cannot create more than a fraction of the employment needed."
There are several labour laws. However, most of these only apply to the organised sector, 6.75 per cent of the labour force. For such purposes, the organised sector is defined as enterprises that employ 10 or more workers and use power, or employ 20 or more workers and don't use power. In 2003, the organised sector workforce was 27 million, 18.6 million in the public sector and 8.4 million in the private sector.
The total workforce (not the labour force, which is larger) is around 400 million. Any legislation, such as reservation of organised private sector jobs for SC/STs, will impact only 8.4 million people, since such reservations already exist in the public sector.
Assuming no SC/STs are employed in the private organised sector, and this is an incorrect assumption to make, forced reservations will increase employment by 2.2 million. But the number of SC/STs in the workforce is 104 million and the employment creation problem is fundamentally a rural one.
In rural India, 57 per cent of males and 62 per cent of females report themselves as self-employed. Creating employment, including for SC/STs, requires an enabling environment for growth and employment generation. This requires rural sector reforms that also cater to the needs of the self-employed, by ensuring skills and education. Presuming that every SC/ST person will be employed, and not self-employed, is wrong. Nor, if such a forced reservation law were to be extended to the unorganised sector, would there be any impact.
We can't even enforce our existing minimum wage legislation there. More seriously, there is a presumption that SC/ST workers are below par and would otherwise not be employed.
The government has indeed not been filling its required quota. But the private sector, at least the organised private sector, does employ SC/STs. It is difficult to obtain data, since the private sector doesn't seek information on SC/ST status.
It is the government that does this and thereby perpetuates the tendency not to mainstream SC/STs, but to keep them permanently segregated. If one extrapolates on the basis of whatever data the organised private sector maintains, the reservation quota is already more or less filled. Forget 2.2 million incremental jobs. One will be lucky if one obtains 0.2 million.
The reservation issue hasn't yet amounted to mandated jobs through legislation. But this government's mindset, reflective of the late 1960s and early 1970s, is that for every problem, there must be legislation.
Positive affirmation must be pushed through legislation. Rarely does this result in tangible improvements. However, apart from the myopic objective of possibly winning votes in electoral battles, it makes us feel good that something is being done for SC/STs.If we must have a law, let's have one that prohibits use of caste-based surnames in Independent India.