Today, Jharkhand announced that 75% of private sector jobs would be reserved for locals. Not only do I consider this a misuse of the affirmative action provisions in our Constitution, but also an anti-business step. It is close to impossible for any private sector company to acquire 75% local employees; provisions like these only discourage investment, especially foreign investment, in states. In August 2020, this same legislation was introduced in Haryana, and the Governor of the state referred it to the President.
Jharkhand and Haryana are not the only states. Maharashtra (up to 80%), Andhra Pradesh (75%), Karnataka (75%) and Madhya Pradesh (70%) have also provided reservations for locals in private sector jobs. While these states boast of high per capita income, it does not justify the violation of Article 14 that allows equality before law, Article (1)(g) that allows freedom to practice any profession or trade to all citizens and Article 16(2) and (3) of the Constitution which prohibits discrimination in employment on the grounds of place of residence. Despite the blatant violation of these articles, many state governments continue to reserve private sector jobs for locals. Telangana state government also announced its decision to grant tax concessions and other incentives to private sector enterprises which would reserve majority of their jobs for locals.
Written and spoken knowledge of Marathi in Maharashtra, Tamil in Tamil Nadu, Kannada in Karnataka and Bengali in West Bengal is a must to be eligible for a government job. Madhya Pradesh CM Shivraj Singh announced that he would reserve all Government jobs for those who cleared Class Xth and XIIth exams from Madhya Pradesh schools. These policies are blatantly disregarding SC judgements which have placed a cap of 50% on number of seats which can be reserved.
Additionally, our Constitution included provisions for affirmative action owing to the social and economic backwardness of certain groups, which had historically been deprived of opportunities due to their caste identity. This historical discrimination pushed them behind, which justified reserving seats for them, so as to allow them to compete with their peers who were better off. However, reservations on the basis of place of residence and language are problematic. Even if we overlook the violation of constitutional provisions.
I have heard a lot of people say that they don’t believe reservation should be caste-based, rather, it should be on economic grounds. A better-off SC candidate has greater access to good education and resources, compared to a so-called “upper-caste” belonging to a poor family. Considering India’s ridiculous definition of poverty, a lot of people who do not fit the bill of a poor candidate but come from families which can barely afford their education, let alone a decent one, capable candidates are deprived of opportunities which could propel them in the right direction. And to a certain extent, I agree to this.
However, I do not endorse complete scrapping of caste-based reservation. I belong to Bihar; I don’t live in the state, but I have family living there, and they often tell me how caste-based discrimination is still a reality in some of the most backward places, places whose names we have never even heard of. In those places, when the offspring of one of the so-called “lower-caste” gets a chance to study in a good institution thanks to reservation, they are able to improve the “status (economic/social/educational)” of their family, thereby ending generations of suffering and cycle of poverty as well as discrimination. Therefore, I strongly believe that caste-based reservation is justified to some extent, especially in places notorious for discrimination.
That being said, it is also important that these reserved seats are not hijacked by community members who are well-off, had all the opportunities, went to good schools and coaching institutes; not only are they misusing a legal provision meant to empower the unempowered, they are snatching the seat of a deserving but deprived candidate which is rightfully theirs. This concern was also expressed in Indra Sawhney v. Union of India, wherein it was said that well-off members of the community do not allow the benefits to percolate down to the poorer members of their community.
Thus, came the creamy layer concept: If a member of a backward group is able to compete with someone of a forward group, he should not be eligible for reserved seats.
Likewise, if a candidate belongs to one of the “forward castes” on paper, but does not have the requisite resources to compete with wealthy peers, it is essential that this candidate receives admittance to educational institutions or government jobs even if this candidate does not perform as exceptionally as a “General Candidate” is supposed to.
In the above-mentioned case, the Court also made it clear that benefits cannot exceed 50%; yet states today are reserving over 50% seats for local residents. This whole idea does not make me comfortable, as it violates not only the 50% rule, but also the criteria on whose basis seats are reserved. Granted, this landmark case was concerned with reservation in Government jobs, and I started my article with reservation of seats in Private Sector enterprises. Yet, it is equally wrong, not only with regard to Constitutional provisions, but also in terms of economic implications.
Policies such as Jharkhand’s only seem to break the back of an otherwise growing economy. Foreign companies investing in India, especially the backward regions, already have to deal with multiple inconvenient policies, red-tapism, employment rules, etc. A reservation policy will only discourage them from investing in these states. Imagine the pains any enterprise will have to undertake in order to fill the local employees quota of 75%. Instead of dealing with more meaningless policies in states which will not even guarantee any profits, the enterprises will shift to zones where business is feasible. This only adds to India’s uneven growth, where some states are rich, while others continue to languish in poverty.
It also discourages an intermingling of different linguistic groups. As someone who will not be eligible for employment in most of these states owing to the fact that I did not grow up in those states, do not have degrees of their schools and cannot communicate in their local language, I will be confined to the state I grew up in. This furthers the social divide in India; a divide which we need to overcome to retain the unity of our diverse country.
An effective reservation policy is one which empowers and encourages all sections of the society to come together and carry out their tasks in an effective manner, so as to contribute to both individual and collective growth. The aim is to endow the backward groups with benefits which can take them forward in life and to urge the already forward groups to make use of the opportunities they were lucky enough to receive.