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PUCL Bulletin, August 2005

Question of reservation in private sector

-- By Mahi Pal Singh

With the refusal of big industrial houses even to entertain the proposal of reservation in jobs for people belonging to Scheduled Castes/Tribes in private companies, the question whether the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government led by the Congress will be able to fulfill its promise of providing job reservations to the SC/STs in the private sector or has once again started begging for an answer.

Constitutional position
When the framers of the Indian Constitution laid down provisions in the Constitution pertaining to reservations in jobs for Scheduled Castes/Tribes, they very much had in their minds every individual’s right to equality or the equal protection of the laws which was guaranteed under Article 14 of the Constitution. In order to make the right to equality a reality it was imperative that the State should be empowered to make special provisions for the advancement of any socially and educationally backward classes and for the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes which was done under Article 15(4) of the Constitution.

Article 46 of Part IV of the Constitution under the heading ‘Directive Principles of State Policy’ lays down that “The State shall promote with special care the educational and economic interests of the weaker sections of the people, and in particular, of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes, and shall protect them from social injustice and all forms of exploitation.” This article, even though legally not enforceable in a court of law, makes it incumbent on the government to protect them (the weaker sections of the people, and in particular, the Scheduled Castes/Tribes) from social injustice and all forms of exploitation.

On how this social justice can be secured for these sections of our society, Justice (Retd.) P.B. Sawant has rightly observed, “The right to equality without the capacity and the means to avail of the benefits equally is a cruel joke practiced on the deprived sections of the society. It widens the social and economic inequalities progressively with the haves making use of the guaranteed right to amass the fruits of progress, and the have-nots remaining where they are. The exceptions (to the right to equality law) enable the State to make the deprived capable of availing of the benefits which otherwise they would not be able to do. It is to give effect to the principle of equality that the exceptions become mandatory in any unequal society such as ours which intends to become egalitarian. …To treat two unequals equally causes as much injustice as to treat two equals unequally. The jurisprudence of equality therefore requires that those below are leveled up to those above. (The Constitution, Equality and Reservations – P.B. Sawant, Mainstream, June 14, 2003)

Accordingly, a provision was made for reservation in jobs for Scheduled Castes/Tribes in services under the central and state governments as well as in public sector undertakings.

Though the policy could not achieve the desired effect of uplifting the downtrodden classes within the time frame prescribed initially under the Constitution, later extended by amendments to the Constitution by Parliament, yet in all fairness it must be admitted that some dent has certainly been made in the social structure of the society and some change has taken place in the position of people belonging to these classes, even if marginally. People from these classes have started finding place in the highest services, including the administrative services like the IAS and the IPS, which was an impossibility at the time when India attained freedom. Children from these classes go to schools and colleges, and even higher institutions of learning, and discrimination based on caste has diminished, at least visibly, because mindsets cannot be changed overnight and 55-60 years is not a long enough time to obliterate the inscription of caste based discrimination engraved on the inner layers of the psyche of a caste-ridden society.

Maybe only a small percentage of the people belonging to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, but now they do live a dignified human life. Not to recognize this fact will be to shut ones eyes to the truth. And this by itself is evidence enough to prove that if the position of more people from these sections is to be improved, if their right to equality is to be ensured, this reservation in jobs for them must continue.

Promises made under the Common Minimum Programme (CMP) of the UPA
The Common Minimum Programme of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) released by the UPA constituents headed by the Congress President, Mrs. Sonia Gandhi, the UPA Chairperson and the left parties supporting the UPA on May 27, 2004 declared in the introductory part of the CMP that the people of India had “voted decisively in the fourteenth Lok Sabha elections for secular, progressive forces, for parties wedded to the welfare of farmers, agricultural labour, weavers, workers and weaker sections of society, for parties irrevocably committed to the daily well-being of the common man across the country.”

In the section entitled ‘Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes’ regarding reservation in jobs, the CMP says, “All reservation quotas, including those relating to promotions, will be fulfilled in a time-bound manner,” and that “The UPA Government is very sensitive to the issue of affirmative action, including reservations, in the private sector. It will immediately initiate a national dialogue with all political parties, industry and other organizations to see how best the private sector can fulfill the aspirations of Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe youth.” The ‘very sensitive’ government could find time even to discuss the issue with the industry only after completing one year in office, and after the rejection of its proposal by the industry the government has failed to come out with its future plan of action. So much for its ‘irrevocable commitment’ to the welfare of ‘workers and weaker sections of society.’

The main problem is that with the adoption of the policy of globalization, privatization and liberalization, the state is shedding its social responsibilities one by one. Public sector is being surrendered to the private sector, so much so that even the high profit earning infrastructural Public Sector Undertakings, whose establishment was considered an honour for the country and the government and which were called the Navratnas, are being sold out even by the UPA government led by the Congress even against its own Common Minimum Programme (CMP) as is clear from its recent decision to sell out BHEL, and it is being done by the same Congress which was not tired of crying ‘foul’ when the NDA government led by the BJP was doing so.

CMP on public sector
Speaking about the Public Sector, the Common Minimum Programme of the UPA said, “The UPA Government is committed to a strong and effective public sector whose social objectives are met by its commercial functioning… The UPA is pledged to devolve full managerial and commercial autonomy to successful, profit-making companies operating in a competitive environment. Generally profit-making companies will not be privatized” (Emphasis mine). Regarding its policy on the infrastructural companies, the CMP declared in unequivocal terms, “The UPA will retain existing “navratna” companies in the public sector while these companies raise resources from the capital market. While every effort will be made to modernize and restructure sick public sector companies and revive sick industry, chronically loss-making companies will either be sold-off, or closed, (emphasis mine) after all workers have got their legitimate dues and compensation.”

So it were only the ‘chronically loss-making companies’ which were to be sold-off not the “navratnas” running in profit. How can this government be expected to ‘modernize and restructure sick public sector companies and revive sick industry’ (which could keep alive the hopes of the vulnerable sections of the society to get some employment therein), when it is selling off its best ones to private hands? Even the vulnerable ones in the private sector companies are yielding place to Multi-national Corporations because all kinds of nationalists are adopting policies which help the Multi-national Corporations under the compulsions prescribed by the perpetrators of the ‘free-market economy’. The words in the CMP under the title ‘Economic Reforms’, “The UPA reiterates its abiding commitment to economic reforms with a human face, that stimulates growth, investment and employment,” (emphasis added) seem hollow because the so called ‘reforms?’ have not stimulated employment and if they have ‘a human face’, that face is present only in the CMP not in its implementation.

During the government of the NDA “the public sector had lost as many as 45 lakh jobs. The government recruitment was frozen both at the Centre and in States.” (‘On Common Minimum Programme’, by Girish Mishra, Mainstream June 5, 2004). Nothing has so far been done to improve the situation. Except in its CMP, the Congress seems to have forgotten, in fact it forgot it in 1991 itself when these ‘economic reforms’ were first introduced by its government under the leadership of the then Finance Minister, who is the incumbent Prime Minister, Shri Manmohan Singh, the Karachi Congress Resolution on Fundamental Rights authored by Mahatma Gandhi which had stressed that “in order to end the exploitation of the masses, political freedom must include real economic freedom of starving millions” (ibid.). The shift of stress from ‘economic freedom’ to ‘economic reforms’ is the distance that the Congress party has covered during the last few decades.

Growing unemployment, aggravated by the ‘jobless-growth’ promoted by globalization of economy, and handing over of one public sector after another to private businessmen by the government, more for the benefit of those who acquire them, and the individual benefit of those who run the government, than for the benefit of the economy of the country, the country itself or its people, have together made getting employment an uphill task for the youth today. With the shrinking of the public sector, the number of jobs available for reservations has also shrunk considerably. The question then is: How can the State fulfill its responsibility of protecting the weaker sections of our society from social injustice and all forms of exploitation as mandated by the Constitution?

Stand of big business houses
Under the circumstances should we forget about building up of an egalitarian society, the principles of social justice and the constitutional mandate to guarantee the right of equality to every citizen of the country? And that too only because some governments of the country during a decade and a half have chosen to be dictated by the terms of the World Bank and the IMF, who in turn work under the direct command of the US, the protector of the capitalists of the world and the MNCs, to handover their economies to the private sector and the MNCs? Should the government shirk its responsibility to protect and uplift the downtrodden sections of our society in the face of the opposition offered by The Federation of Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industries (FICCI) by not bringing before the Parliament and passing a legislation providing for reservations of jobs for SC/STs in the private sector?
In its editorial ‘The Question of Reservation’ (The Navbharat Times, dated 2nd June, 2005) the paper says, “Undoubtedly the private companies should fulfill their social responsibilities, but for that making reservation in services compulsory does not seem to be an appropriate method.” (Translation mine).

The editorial also refers to the offer of some industrial houses to help the weaker sections through scholarships, company run schools, joint programmes with the government, special training camps and such other activities. In other words, they are willing to dole out alms to the poor as an act of charity but not prepared to shoulder the social responsibility which they owe to the society which has given them the chance and the means to grow. In its editorial ‘No Snake Oil, Please – Push equal opportunity, not private sector job reservations’ The Times of India dated 7.6.2005 says, “Till today nobody has tried to force reservations on private business, with good reason. Businesses need to maximize profits for shareholders and, therefore, require the freedom to hire people who best fit their needs, and not hire by fiat.” And there can hardly be any doubt that Private Business stands for profits, and profits alone – without any social responsibility, and how that profit comes also does not matter very much because when profiteering is the end no rules or principles are sacrosanct enough to be stuck to.

The moot question is whether these industrial houses have in the past shouldered any social responsibility voluntarily without the compulsion of law. I do not know of any capitalist spending large sums of money on philanthropic activities. Those who patronize art or culture do so not with the aim of promoting them but to commemorate some family name or to get social recognition as promoters of art and culture. Some have built big temples to satisfy their religiosity and to gain immortality of name and fame for themselves or some other members of their own families. Otherwise, if money has been spent for non-business purposes, it has been done to camouflage huge tax evasion – and not to promote social equality or social justice.

Even a small businessman ascribes his success in business and accumulation of wealth to his intelligence and hard-work in absolute terms. Nobody gives any or much credit to the exploitation of workers or their hard-work, or for that matter, favourable, supportive and biased legislations, tax structure and policies of the government, often tilted in their favour ensured in advance by them through the funding of election expenditure. They enjoy tax holidays and the other tax payers are made to pay additional taxes instead to make up for the loss incurred thereby. Even the lowest classes of people have to pay, not in the name of income taxes, because they hardly have any incomes to talk of, but in the name of excise, sales tax and the like. They directly also contribute to the affluence of the corporate sector through their labour which is always underpaid.

Then the natural resources like land, forests, water and air, which belong to the whole society are invariably and indiscriminately, and in an unlimited way, exploited for their own limited benefits by the business class and the brunt of the exploitation of these natural resources is borne by the hapless millions who are, because they have no control over the natural resources, the means of production and also over them who have control over them all and also decide their destiny, to blame no less for their plight because it is they themselves who elect their mentors and policy-makers of the country, because when they go to the polling stations they cast their votes not on the basis of the economic policies the political parties adopt, which basically affect their own lives, but on the basis of emotional issues like the building of the Ram temple at Ayodhya, or on communal or caste lines. At that time they do not think that those who are professedly in favour of the multi-national corporates under the influence of The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, and have always acted as the hunch-men of the capitalists, can never adopt policies favourable to the downtrodden.

Thus the money they have accumulated, and continue to accumulate, does not really belong to them in absolute terms. They make money because some people individually, and the society as a whole, loses some of it which rightfully belongs to them. And the individuals who lose some of their hard earned money which is pocketed by these capitalist through contrived economic policies adopted by the government are no other than the labourers, who, in one way or the other, sell their labour to them cheaply to fill their coffers simply because they have to fill the bellies of their children – and the most vulnerable of these working people are those who come from scheduled castes/tribes and OBCs.

The result is that they continue to languish under the scourge of poverty whereas the capitalists, industrialists and corporate magnates continue to churn money so fast that there are examples of some of them raising their own empires of thousands of crores within a span of twenty-twenty five years, more through dubious means, even verging on criminality (As reported in ‘Outlook’ dated June 13, 2005 in its cover story, one in every 17 Indians has invested in Subroto Roy’s Rs. 50,000-crore empire. “He appeared out of nowhere to create a Rs. 50,000-crore empire. Now Subroto Roy Sahara is himself nowhere to be found,” and, “The UPA government led by the Congress has decided to take action against the group on various income tax-related cases. A demand of nearly Rs. 800 crore may be raised against Sahara.”) while the country and the countrymen remain where they were. Even intellectuals like university professors and scientists fail to own a house for themselves and their families at the end of their lifelong services; not so the Subroto Roys, the Ambanis (The latter own a whooping empire of more than 75,000-crore raised within a period of 25-30 years.) and their like.

They have no money to employ people from SC/STs, but they have lots of it for their extravagant lifestyle and vulgar, or should I say criminal, display of wealth [“At the simultaneous weddings of his (Subroto Roy’s) two sons in February last year, Rs. 140 crore was spent, and the entire who’s who of India attended, from the prime minister to every big name in the Hindi film industry, which actually closed down for a few days during the celebrations.” – Ibid.].

The way out
Under the circumstances the refusal of the industry to employ people from SC/STs cannot be accepted as valid and justifiable on any ground. The UPA government is also duty-bound by the CMP to enforce reservation of jobs for SC/STs and OBCs in private companies. It must pass a law in Parliament providing for it. If it does not do so, that will only reflect the hypocrisy of the constituents of the UPA. Its failure to do so will, in unequivocal terms, prove the absurdity of its policy of liberalization, privatization and globalization. It will also be a clear signal to the people belonging to Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes, who constitute 85 % of the total population of the country, that if they wish to live a dignified life in this country they must throw out every government which comes to power on their strength and works contrary to their interests and as the agents of a few hundred capitalists and industrialists.

They should also organize themselves under the new leadership evolved from amongst themselves (not depending on its old leadership which goes on changing its stance in view of its own personal benefits) and launch a movement to force the government to take decisive action in the matter and not pay only lip-service to their cause.

 

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