Daily Editorial Analysis for 5th Sep 2021

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The key to revitalising India’s reservation system

Why in news

Hoardings and posters lauding for introducing reservations for Other Backward Classes (OBCs) in the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) examinations and a renewed debate on caste census have once again brought the debate on affirmative action in the limelight.

Key Points

  • The affirmative action programme that was envisaged during the founding moments of the republic is indeed one of the remarkable provisions to have been worked out by our Constitution makers.
  • It has been historically significant in enunciating the principle of justice in a deeply unequal and oppressive social order such as ours.

Still no equity

  • While it is undeniable that these provisions have been one of the protagonists of Indian democracy’s success stories, these have also accumulated a fair share of problems and call for immediate policy attention and debate.
  • Through reservation of seats in political and public institutions of the state, it was thought that the hitherto marginalised groups, which have suffered generations of oppression and humiliation, would, finally, be able to find place in the power sharing and decision-making processes.
  • However, this strategy of removal of disabilities has not translated into an equalisation of life chances for many groups in our heterogeneous society.

Problems with current policy

  • There is now a strong demand from those who have not been able to accrue the benefits of reservations from within the marginalised sections, to devise some policy option which may be able to supplement the existing system of reservation.
  • The fact that the current system suffers from the “problem of reification” is not just wishful thinking, but a hard fact.
  • The data released by the Justice G. Rohini Commission’s report on the sub-categorisation of OBCs gives a good synoptic view to understand this.
  • Based on the last five years’ data on appointments in central government jobs and OBC admissions to central higher education institutions, the commission concluded that 97% of central OBC quota benefits go to just under 25% of its castes.
  • As many as 983 OBC communities, 37% of the total, have zero representation in both central government jobs and admissions to central universities.
  • Also, the report states that just 10% of the OBC communities have accrued 24.95% of jobs and admissions.
  • Clearly, the assumption that the disadvantages of every sub-group within each category are the same is severely misplaced.
  • It is important to note that the Rohini Commission’s data are based just on the institutions that come under the purview of the central government. We hardly have any legible data on the socio-economic conditions of varied social groups at more local levels of State and society.
  • Consequently, asymmetrical distribution of reservation has severely deterred political projects of unified subaltern solidarity.

Insufficiency of data

  • As underlined above, there is a dire need of accurate data pertaining to the socio-economic condition of different social groups.
  • Though caste-based reservations have been pivotal in animating upward social mobility and led to the emergence of a handful of politically mature and visible Dalit-Bahujan castes.
  • We do not know what liberalisation has done to castes which remained tied to more traditional sources of income and were incapable of realising the new opportunities provided by the opening of the economy.
  • We do not know how these groups have navigated and transitioned to a more accentuated regime of capital amidst nearly no social security net on the ground.
  • The marginal majority within still dwells in the waiting room of history, waiting to see the light of the policy grid of the state.

Affirmative action

  • There is an urgent requirement of mechanism that can address this lacuna and make the system more accountable and sensitive to intra-group demands.
  • Since every further categorisation will only lead to reification and fragmentation in the long run, two things are required.
  • One, we urgently need to develop a wide variety of context-sensitive, evidence-based policy options that can be tailored to meet specific requirements of specific groups.
  • Two, we need an institution alike the Equal Opportunities Commission of the United States or the United Kingdom which can undertake two important but interrelated things:
  • Make a deprivation index correlating data from the socio-economic-based census of different communities including caste, gender, religion, and other group inequalities and rank them to make tailor made policies; and
  • Undertake an audit on performance of employers and educational institutions on non-discrimination and equal opportunity and issue codes of good practice in different sectors. This will make the formulation of policy and its monitoring simpler at an institutional level.
  • As evident, a socio-economic caste-based census becomes a necessary precondition to initiate any meaningful reform in the affirmative action regime in India.
  • It is worth noting that similar suggestions were made a decade ago in the recommendations that the expert committee for an Equal Opportunities Commission (2008) made in its comprehensive report that it submitted to the Ministry of Minority Affairs.
  • However, little policy progress has been made in this regard.
  • Successive governments have been reluctant to engage with such radical policy options, almost always caving in to immediate and myopic political gains.


National Monetisation Pipeline and the infrastructure deficit

Why in News

  • The government’s announcement of the National Monetisation Pipeline (NMP), a scheme to transfer the rights to operate public infrastructure for a fixed period, has received attention in the media.
  • Hopefully, in the skirmish over the details of the scheme, not to mention the partisan allegations flying around, the fact of the severe infrastructure deficit that India faces, and the imperative to address it, will not get overlooked.
  • We need infrastructure not only to speed up growth in a slackened economy but also to lead a dignified life, even after we have seen off the COVID-19 pandemic.

Monopolisation in National Monetisation Pipeline (NMP)

  • A significant criticism of the NMP is that the transfer would end up creating monopolies, leading to a rise in price.
  • The creation of monopolies through public policy would be an embarrassment alright.
  • However, the claim of an inevitable monopolisation is exaggerated as the outcome would differ according to the type of infrastructure.
  • Monopolisation is inevitable in the case of highways and railway lines, while it is not in the case of warehouses as all the warehouses need not be sold to a single bidder.
  • On the issue of the price, the Vice-Chairman of NITI Aayog has emphasised that the price would be regulated and any increase of it capped in line with inflation when the government signs the contract with the concessionaire.
  • Whether private parties would be open to such an arrangement is a different question. And this really is the point. While the government may have announced its expectation of the proceeds from the monetisation, we are yet to ascertain the private sector’s interest in it.
  • The NITI Aayog has flagged the success of the public-private partnership (PPP) governing the Mumbai-Pune Expressway, but there is also the unhappy experience of a leading infrastructure company opting out of the agreement to run the Delhi Airport Express Rail Link very early on, causing a disruption.
  • India’s experience with PPP in infrastructure, enthusiastically pursued by both the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) and the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), has not been impressive.
  • It may actually have contributed to the saddling of the public sector banks with non-performing assets.
  • Most infrastructure comes in the form of a public good, even when it may not be a natural monopoly.
  • No wonder then that it has been built and managed by the public sector the world over. But the possibility that the price may rise after a transfer of public infrastructure to the private sector is not a good reason to oppose it,
  • India’s infrastructure has not expanded precisely because the assets generate too little revenue for even their maintenance, leave alone upgradation, due to pricing practices in the public sector. This has held back growth of the economy.
  • Moreover, it cannot simply be assumed that monopoly would lead to a higher price.
  • The outcome would depend upon the costs of the concessionaire, which may well be lower than that of the public entities currently managing India’s assets. A comparison of the fares of Air India with that of private airlines is enough to see this.
  • The important consideration in an evaluation of the NMP would be the volume of funds expected to be generated.
  • The government has announced an indicative value of ₹6 lakh crore accruing over four years.
  • This is extraordinarily low in relation to two comparators.
  • First, it is only 10% higher than the budgeted capital expenditure of the Government of India actually for 2021-22.
  • Next, see it in relation to the figure of ₹100 lakh crore estimated as the infrastructural investment India needs.
  • This was announced by Finance Minister in her first Budget of 2019 and repeated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in all his subsequent Independence Day speeches.
  • Any claim of the innovativeness of the NMP pales beside this astute estimation made by the government itself.
  • As for the carping by the Opposition, it distracts attention from the severe infrastructural deficit we face and the need to erase it.

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