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PUCL Bulletin, October 2006

Balancing merit with equality

-- By M A Rane, July 25, 2006

When I was a student in the Government High School at Karwar, I used to write regularly for our school annual magazine one article. When I was in the higher standard I wrote an article under the title "Caste Prejudice and Class Discrimination", pointing out that those who are fortunate to reach the top of the mountain because of the advantage of their family, can throw ropes to enable the large number of people at the bottom of the mountain to enable them to climb it and not throw stones at them to prevent them from climbing the mountain. I do not know what prompted me to write the article. At that time I was totally ignorant of the principle of affirmative action or positive discrimination with which I became familiar after I started legal practice in the Bombay High Court in l949. It appears that my response was to the milieu existing in the society at that time.

However, at present I find substantial change in the milieu in the situation. In villages of both banks of river Kali in Karwar district, young and enterprising people started primary and high schools in every village or to cater to two neighbouring villages. The result was high literacy of people not only of boys but also of girls in villages of the Kali Valley. Some enterprising people also started colleges and technical institutions in addition to those started by the Government at different places like headquarters of Karwar. The result was that a number of students got opportunity to join colleges or other higher institutions. The students including girls not only graduated from such colleges but also did their Ph.D. Some of the students including girls went to States for higher education. What is true of Kali Valley is also true of Goa.

The proposal of reservation of seats in higher educational institutions as well as in Government and private industries announced by the HRD Minister Shri Arjun Singh, even without discussing the same in the Cabinet, is highly divisive like the Mandal proposal. Instead it is far better to follow the point system of USA in the Universities and by Government and Private industries in order to give weightage to the socially backwards like African- Americans as well as the poor people even from amongst the Americans. According to the system in the first 50 points academic qualification are considered. In this class largely persons coming from higher class, advanced class and richer parents generally stand a better chance. Next 50 points are allotted on the basis of various factors such as backwardness, community, education level in the family, financial position of the family and other factors. In this system the backward gets weightage and there is equitable balancing between merits and equity.

This was necessary in USA because US Supreme Court rejected the principle of reserved quotas. There is no reason why we should not follow this point system in India, which will create balance between merit and backwardness. In an edit page article under the title "Quotas and beyond" in the Times of India of July 6, 2006, Solil Paul, with the Institute of Conflict Management, New Delhi has pointed out that this point system is followed by the prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). In the entire controversy about the quotas I did not come across any article referring to the point system being followed in JNU. It is worthwhile quoting from the article extensively as follows: "It is high time to think out of the box, arriving at the right mix of social justice and merit as mandated by Articles 15(4) and 335, while also addressing to the creamy layer problem. The selection process in educational institutions in India, such as Jawaharlal Nehru University or University of Michigan abroad, suggests a way out of the imbroglio. It is a point based system, which gives weight age to many other aspects of the applicant, besides his academic achievements. In a total point system of l00, 50 points could be assigned to academic factors and the other 50 to non academic factors. While the first half would be mark sheet based, as is the common procedure for admissions, the latter half would be well distributed among factors which help identify the backwardness of an individual applicant.

Social-educational (and even economic) factors would include aspects like the backwardness of the region to which the applicant belongs, educational facilities available in the region (high school facility existing in the village or not), status of schools, government or public, literacy rate of the community, the family source of income, drinking water and power if available in the village, among other things". I am of the opinion if the point system is followed there will be justice and no conflict between the people of India. There will be balancing of merit and social justice to the students seeking admission to higher educational institutions or in seeking employment in government and private industries. It will also remove the tension created by Arjun Singh for extraneous purpose of getting votes, just as V P Singh used Mandal Commission report for the same purpose. .

People's Union for Civil Liberties, 81 Sahayoga Apartmrnts, Mayur Vihar I, Delhi 110091, India. Phone (91) 11 2275 0014