ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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On Reservation Policy

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This is in response to the article by Anurag Bhaskar “Reservations, Efficiency, and the Making of Indian Constitution” (EPW, 8 May 2021). The article is scholarly, informative, and convincing. It would also have been timely had it been published in the 1950s. The question now is not whether a reservation policy is needed, but one of whether it can be continuously extended to cover new politically powerful groups, whether the ceiling of 50% ordered by the Supreme Court should be raised to accommodate new groups, and whether the policy should continue endlessly in the future. It would be erroneous to assume that the arguments in favour of reservation made while framing the Constitution would automatically support positive answers to these questions.

The reservation policy made it possible for hitherto marginalised groups to enter the mainstream on honourable terms in millions. The situation is certainly not as bad as it was in the 1950s or the 1960s. We can argue that the task of the policy is not yet over, but we cannot deny that a creamy layer has emerged within these groups and other backward classes, which compete with their less fortunate caste brethren and corner most of the benefits at the cost of opportunities for the latter. The same arguments used against upper castes in support of reservation would hold in this context too. The problem cannot be solved by creating new categories of reservations within a caste. It can be solved only by disqualifying the children of the creamy layer from the scope of reservation. This means that the long-term policy should be to gradually reduce the extent and scope of reservation. I understand that B R Ambedkar also thought of the reservation policy only as a temporary step, and not as a permanent feature of the Constitution.

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