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What is the 49.5% quota all about?
George Iype
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April 12, 2006

Last week, more than 300,000 students across India took the Indian Institute of Technology-Joint Entrance Examination. Normally, only 4,935 of them would get seats in the country's elite seven IITs.

But this year, not all those who fare brilliantly in the examination would get through the IITs, if a new reservation proposal mooted by Union Human Resource Development Minister Arjun Singh comes into force.

Singh has proposed to add 27 per cent reservation for Other Backward Classes (OBCs) to the existing 22.5-per cent reservation for Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs) in the IITs, Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) and other institutes under managed by the Central government.

The Cabinet Secretary has returned the draft reservation bill that the HRD ministry had forwarded. Yet, the new reservation proposal has elicited strong reactions and opposition from across the country.

Here is all you want to know about the new reservation law that Arjun Singh wants to impose:

What is the new quota regime that HRD Minister Arjun Singh is proposing?

Singh says the Central government will raise education reservations to the Other Backward Classes, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes to 49.5 per cent in India's premier, centrally sponsored institutions. Currently students belonging to SCs and STs already enjoy 22.5 per cent quota.

What the government is proposing is to bring OBCs too under the quota regime by giving them 27 per cent reservations. So if the plan succeeds, the total reservations for OBCs, SCs and STs will stand at 49.5 per cent.

That means out of the 100 students admitted in IITs, for instance, 49.5 per cent (nearly 50 students) will belong to OBCs, SCs and STs?

Yes, that is correct.

Which are the premier institutes where the government will implement the new reservation policy?

Among institutes that come under the jurisdiction of the new quota regime are the IITs, IIMs, the 20 central universities (like Jawaharlal Nehru University and the Delhi University) and central government managed professional institutions like the six central medical colleges, including the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), the National Law School, and the Indian Institute of Mass Communication.

What about the Regional Engineering Colleges?

HRD ministry officials say the RECs are not considered premier institutes, and thus may not come under this fresh quota proposal. However, the possibility of them coming under the scheme cannot be also ruled out, as the government is yet to finalise the pros and cons in this matter.

What is the legal/constitutional basis under which the HRD minister has come out with the new quota policy?

Arjun Singh has based his new quota policy on sound grounds, in fact. In December last year, he piloted an education reservation bill known as the Constitution (104th) Amendment Bill in Parliament.

The Bill, which was passed in the winter session of the Parliament, calls for providing reservation for the socially and educationally backward classes, besides the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes, in private unaided educational institutions.

Did that Bill has a provision that allows 49.5 per cent reservation in premier institutes?

Yes, the Bill allowed for caste-based quotas up to 50 per cent.

So now the government does not need to enact a new law to implement the proposal?

No need for any law for the Central government to implement the proposal. But the proposal needs to get the approval of the Union Cabinet.

So has Arjun Singh sent his proposal to the Cabinet?

Yes, he sent it last week. But the Cabinet on Monday returned the proposal to the HRD ministry stating that in view of the ongoing assembly elections to five states, a government approval to the proposal would violate the model code of conduct.

Was it the reason why the Election Commission has asked an explanation from Singh on his quota announcement?

Yes, the poll panel last week issued a notice to Singh, seeking an explanation on his proposal for quotas for other backward castes. But in his answer to the Election Commission, Singh said he has not violated the code of conduct, as the government is not enacting any new law. He said the Constitution (104th) Amendment Bill passed in Parliament has already made reservations for OBCs 'an existing constitutional scheme' and not a 'new announcement.'

But Singh has also asked the states to pass similar laws to provide reservations to the OBCs.

Yes. The new law passed in Parliament is applicable only to the Central government managed institutes. The states have to pass similar enabling laws in their assemblies to provide reservation in state-level institutions.

What is the effect of this new quota scheme on students and institutes?

For the institutes, this means mean a fall in the revenue. For general students, this could mean studying longer hours to be a part of the cream of the Indian student population.

Are political parties opposed to the new move?

No political party is opening opposing it. Because OBCs comprise more than 50 per cent of India's electoral votes. But opposition parties say Arjun Singh's announcement in the run up to the polls is to help the Congress win in elections.

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