This Article is written by Meher (a fourth-year BBA LLB Student at Christ University Bangalore)
Table of Contents
Reservation has been a mystery throughout the years. It has been challenged time and again before the courts. It was a social-engineering tool for the upliftment of the oppressed. Any positive action towards their upliftment is lauded by society and encouraged by law. But through the years reservation has become something more than a positive action. It has become a very myopic concept and was pulled into the vortex of the political regime. It has become part of the vote bank politics and populism over the years. The constitutional makers never wanted the concept of the reservation to go beyond the period of ten years after the constitution came into force. They felt that the continuation of reservation might lead to unequal treatment. Some of the framers even believed that legislations for reservation system would not change the mindset of people towards backward class. But it continues. Over the years it has caused unfathomable repercussions even up to the extent of the likes of brain drain. The most unlikely consequence is that the laws made for reservation have become a mockery of the Indian constitution and reservation. The means to equal participation of the oppressed has become a way to target them more. The debate for revamping the reservation system is for another day. Now, it is important to discuss reservation in the Indian education system. The Indian education system in itself is filled with many inconsistencies and is always a contentious topic. Reservation in Indian education is of great importance as both are significant for the growth of democracy. But both have become the factors in rising the populist tendencies. And as a combined force they grow their own conscience. No law or judiciary can stop abuse of such conscience.
THE STORY SO FAR:
On August 4th, 2021 the Central Government gave a nod to the reservation for OBC (Other Backward Classes) and EWS (Economically weaker sections) within the quota system in NEET entrance examination. The All India Quota system is specifically provided for merit-based, domicile-free opportunities. But now the AIQ is reserved 27% for OBCs and 10% for EWS. The move by the central government was considered a landmark move and the PM remarked that this step would help thousands of students. The move itself comes as a result of long hauled protests by the students and a Madras High Court judgement. The students were not satisfied with the lack of reservation system in the medical education system unlike its counterparts. Although it was a welcome move, it received a mixed response. Many petitions were filed in the High Courts and Supreme Court challenging the move. The petitions were mainly concerned with the income limit set by the committee to decide who can be included in EWS. The committee set the mark of annual gross family income of 8 lakhs for EWS. The Supreme Court stayed the counseling before it ratified this reservation. On January 7th, 2022 the Court allowed for the continuation of counseling by passing an interim order. And finally on January 20th, 2022 the court ratified the reservation and upheld its constitutional validity.
WHAT DOES THE LAW SAY?
There have been many cases and amendments throughout the years questioning and revamping the reservation system. It started off with a 50% limit and now it is undecided and is still in the courts waiting for the final decision. The term backward class is not defined anywhere in any law or the constitution. None of the other terms is defined either. It is just the government panel setting the limits. The only law pertaining to reservations is given in the Constitution through articles 14, 15, 16. Like any other system, reservation is also tested on the cornerstone of the reasonableness of article 14. The whole reservation squabble started with the Balaji case which shredded some light on the class and caste-based system, the Supreme Court clarified that caste can never be equated to class and caste cannot be the sole determinant. Then came the Indra Sawhney case still ceiling the limit at 50% and then came the 103rd Constitutional amendment introducing article 15(6). The apex court interpreted article 15(6) while giving judgements to the petitions filed in this situation. The Supreme Court time and again upheld the constitutional validity of reservation and held that the division is not arbitrary. Even in the present scenario the court remarked that the article 15(6) does not differentiate between UG and PG courses and reservation should be present in all courses to attain the equality we aspire.
The Supreme Court’s judgement comes as a surprise. Many times previously the Apex court was not flexible in the matter of reservation in post graduate courses. The court opined that the reservation should reduce as we go up the education ladder. The reasoning for this opinion is that reservation in PG courses might perpetuate the theory of “once backward always backward”. It would nullify the purpose of reservation in education system. The court also added that the specialization courses should be based on merit rather than reservation. Surprisingly all the cases were pertaining to the medical courses. Despite all the court’s opinion they never denied the State’s authority to make special provisions for the backward class. But this time the Court’s reasoning comes as a surprise. The court has defended its contrary decision by saying that merit cannot be equated or reduced to performance. They added that performance does not take into account the socio-economic factors. The court remarked that the backward classes have suffered since generations and continue to suffer due to the various structural barriers. Such reservations only help them come out of the darkness to realize their true potential. Such reservations present equal opportunity. The court answered the probable countless frustrated merit-based students by saying that the reservation would not be at odds with merit. One notable point is that the court had no justification on the 8 lakhs limit for the EWS reservation. The stakeholders – the aspirants had a mixed reaction. Most of them fear the same old disparity problem but only time can tell, will the merit-based be unaffected or at a disadvantage.
The pandemic has been very strange misfortune to the educational system in the country. Most of the bright futures were threatened and ambushed by the pandemic. The systems that run the country should make sure that pain is not furthered. Although at the beginning the counselling was delayed and there was a lapse in the workforce in the most needing times, the speed decision did help. The undecided and vague systems should not render the efforts of the students in vain. The systems should foster growth and support and this decision is the starting step in that journey. Although there are many undecided determinants for the inclusion of reservation, there is hope. The judiciary and the government can figure it out without getting lost in the translation of reservation into democracy.
 Balaji v. State of Mysore, AIR 1963 SC 649
 Narayan Sharma v. Pankaj Lehkar, AIR 2000 SC 72; Pradeep Jain v. Union of India, AIR 1984 SC1420.