Uttarakhand was at the centre of a storm in both houses of Parliament on Monday over the Supreme Court ruling that states ‘reservation in jobs is not a fundamental right’. The matter resulted from the alleged failure of Uttarakhand’s Congress and BJP governments to properly contest a judicial decision that prevented granting reservation in promotions. In itself, this is not a troubling issue, as reservations are a temporary provision in the Constitution, supposed to end when the socially and economically backward castes achieve parity with other sections of society. Originally introduced for a period of ten years, these reservations have been renewed every decade, including recently, as there is a political consensus across party lines that the time has not yet come to end them.
The opposition to reservation in promotions has emerged from the frustration felt by people belonging to the general category, who feel that, once in service, every government employee should have a level playing field. It is the duty of the government to ensure that those selected through reservations are trained in a manner that they can perform as well as others. If they are given equal pay and perks, as well as similar status, why should they continue to be treated as deficient in ability and unable to compete equally for promotions? The Supreme Court has left the decision to the state governments on whether there is need to give such preferences and to what extent.
Considering the enormous electoral value of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe vote, the opposition has latched eagerly on to the issue, accusing the Uttarakhand and Union Governments of being sympathetic to the anti-reservations cause. Despite the fact that the judgement is limited to a very particular matter, and reservations, otherwise, remain untouched, it is being made out that there is a large conspiracy behind it. Some Members of Parliament have even alleged that such judgements would continue as there are no reservations in the higher judiciary.
The government on its part is caught between two stools. It has to, on the one hand, tread very carefully, particularly as it is being advised by the opposition to take on the Supreme Court by means of an immediate ordinance. On the other hand, if it pays little heed to the other side of the argument, it will alienate many of its staunch supporters who come from sections of society affected adversely by such out of turn promotions. It must also consider the merit argument as this is part of the reason why government organisations and companies are failing to compete at the national and international levels, thereby undermining the reform agenda. All voices must be heard and issues examined before taking a decision.