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Rethinking The Reservation System For The Modern Era

India's caste reservation system, though initially designed to promote social equity, is now in need of serious reform. Addressing its shortcomings is crucial for fostering genuine equality and ensuring opportunities are truly merit-based. In the pursuit of forging a truly inclusive society, one of the most formidable challenges is to tackle hate amongst castes getting due to allegations of illegitimate benefits. This necessitates a thoughtful approach that balances historical injustices with contemporary realities.

Often people seem to ignore the fact that the reservation system was designed to provide the marginalized an equal head start. Like a 100-meter running track, the shape of society's track is often uneven, with a bend in its structure.This necessitates that the runners start from different starting points, in practice, in order to maintain equal overall starting points, in principle. In relation to some others, a large group of caste communities in India have historically faced an enormous amount of backwardness and discrimination.

Reservation system was originally conceptualised to provide these communities an equal head start. Originating from efforts to address historical injustices and promote social equity, caste-based reservations aim to dismantle entrenched discriminatory practices. However, in the contemporary era, there have been several allegations that a few sections have begun to corrupt or exploit the system for their selfish interests. This, in turn, has maligned the system as a whole and promoted hatred among castes that do not benefit from such a system.

This paper delves into the complex interplay between caste reservation and the broader goal of eradicating discrimination, thereby, exploring the potential impact of affirmative action measures on fostering an equal, just and principled society. To address this, we may also need to grasp the basics, such as the caste system's functioning, along with, the areas where modifications are necessary.

Constitutional Provisions:

  1. Part XVI deals with reservation of SC and ST in Central and State legislatures.
  2. Article 15(4) and 16(4) of the Constitution enable the State and Central Governments to reserve seats in government services for the members of the SC and ST communities.
  3. Through the 77th Constitutional Amendment Act, 1995 a new clause (4A) was inserted in Article 16 to enable the government to provide reservation in promotions.
  4. Later, clause (4A) was modified by the Constitution (85th Constitutional Amendment) Act, 2001 to provide consequential seniority to SC and ST candidates promoted by giving reservation.
  5. Constitutional 81st Constitutional Amendment Act, 2000 inserted Article 16 (4B) which enables the state to fill the unfilled vacancies of a year which are reserved for SCs/STs in the succeeding year, thereby nullifying the ceiling of fifty percent reservation on total number of vacancies of that year.
  6. Article 330 and 332 provides for specific representation through reservation of seats for SCs and STs in the Parliament and in the State Legislative Assemblies respectively.
  7. Article 243D provides reservation of seats for SCs and STs in every Panchayat.
  8. Article 233T provides reservation of seats for SCs and STs in every Municipality.
  9. Article 335 of the constitution says that the claims of STs and STs shall be taken into consideration constituently with the maintenance of efficacy of the administration.

These constitutional provisions collectively aim to ensure equality and protect against discrimination while allowing for affirmative action to uplift historically marginalized and disadvantaged groups.

The Reservation Mechanism

The following is a breakdown of the reservation percentages for various communities in India,
  1. Scheduled Castes (SCs): 15%
  2. Scheduled Tribes (STs): 7.5%
  3. Other Backward Classes (OBCs): Approximately 27% (However, this percentage varies by state and is subject to change based on government policies and regulations.)
  4. Economically Weaker Sections (EWS): 10% (Added in 2019 by the 103rd Constitutional Amendment Act, this reservation is applicable to candidates not covered under SCs, STs, or OBCs and whose family income is below a certain threshold)

It's important to note that these percentages are based on the total available seats in educational institutions, government jobs, and other areas where reservations are implemented. Additionally, the exact reservation percentages may vary slightly depending on state-specific policies and regulations.


In India, several commissions are responsible for overseeing reservations and related policies:
  1. National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC): This commission is dedicated to safeguarding the rights and interests of Scheduled Castes (SCs) and ensuring the effective implementation of reservation policies for SCs.
  2. National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST): Similar to the NCSC, this commission focuses on protecting the rights and promoting the welfare of Scheduled Tribes (STs), including monitoring reservation policies for STs.
  3. National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC): The NCBC is tasked with addressing issues related to socially and educationally backward classes and recommending measures for their welfare, including assessing the implementation of reservation policies for Other Backward Classes (OBCs).
  4. National Commission for Minorities (NCM): While not specifically focused on reservations, the NCM works to protect the rights of religious and linguistic minorities in India and may address issues related to minority communities and reservation policies.
These commissions play a crucial role in ensuring that reservation policies are effectively implemented, addressing grievances related to reservations, and making recommendations for the welfare and empowerment of marginalized communities

Affirmative action in the private sector

As of now, affirmative action quotas in the private sector are not mandatory by law. Unlike the public sector and government institutions where reservation policies are enforced, private companies are not legally bound to implement quotas for SCs, STs, OBCs, or EWS candidates.

However, despite the absence of legal mandates, some private companies voluntarily adopt affirmative action policies. They may establish diversity and inclusion programs, set targets for hiring from marginalized communities, and provide training and support to promote equal opportunities. Many companies engage in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities that include initiatives aimed at promoting social equity and economic empowerment. This may involve partnering with NGOs, supporting education and skill development programs for marginalized groups, and offering scholarships or internships to underprivileged individuals.

While not enforcing quotas, the Indian government encourages private sector participation in affirmative action through various incentives and recognition programs. The 'Make in India' initiative by Prime Minister Modi, aimed at boosting manufacturing and job creation, provides an example of how affirmative action can be integrated into economic development strategies. Companies participating in 'Make in India' can prioritize diversity and inclusivity in their hiring practices, aligning with the objectives of affirmative action while contributing to economic growth. This integration promotes skill development, supports marginalized communities, and enhances global competitiveness through a more inclusive workforce and workplace culture.

Successes of the reservation policy

As we shed light on the historical background of society, the injustices faced by lower caste groups have always been a societal evil. Malevolent entities have, for centuries, differentiated people from one another, driven by nothing more than ill mentality. A few groups that embraced the idea of superiority, and the individuals supporting and creating policies based on this ideology, provided them with a golden ladder to climb. Reservation policy has been implemented to combat these social injustices perpetuated across generations. Some of the successes of the reservation system are as follows,
  1. The abolition of untouchability: The abolition of untouchability was one of the biggest victories post-independence, paving the way for equal opportunities and reservations for the 'untouchables,' i.e., Dalit communities. Article 17 of the constitution abolished untouchability, and the Untouchability Offences Act passed in 1955 also made untouchability a punishable offence. It elevated sections of society that had been neglected for generations, providing them with a chance for equal opportunities and status in society and culture.
  2. Promoting backward classes: The biggest advantage of the reservation system is that it helps in promoting backward classes because their upliftment and growth in society have stopped not due to lack of skills, but rather due to their caste, as they are considered untouchable. This is the reason why they are often offered work that cannot be done by upper-caste people. In simple words, by providing them with reservations in government jobs and colleges, the government ensures that they can also pursue jobs of respectable stature.
  3. Reduction in the gap between rich and poor backward classes: It also helps in reducing the income gap between rich and poor backward classes because reservation for government jobs ensures that people from backward classes earn a respectable salary, which in turn helps them break free from the vicious cycle of poverty. In simple words, reservation contributes to narrowing the gap between the rich and the economically disadvantaged.
  4. Reduced poverty line: The percentage of depressed class individuals living below the poverty line was 51.32% in 1978-79, which reduced to 35.97% in 1993-94, although it remained above the national poverty average. From 2015-16 to 2019-21, it decreased further to 14.9%, marking a positive development.
  5. Increase in enrolment ratio of SCs and STs: Enrollments have increased in undergraduate, postgraduate, technical and professional courses for Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST). The percentage of SC enrollment in these categories was 7.08% in 1978-79, and by 2020-21, it had risen to 28-32%.
  6. Diversity and inclusion: Reservation enhances diversity in educational institutions and workplaces, fostering a more inclusive environment and offering varied perspectives.
  7. Meritocracy viewed through the prism of equality: Meritocracy is meaningless without equality. Firstly, all people must be brought to the same level, whether it elevates one section or diminishes another, bridging the gap between upper and lower castes to a great extent.

Criticism regarding the reservation policy

Criticism regarding the reservation policy is widespread, which is why the 21st century needs a modified reservation system. The system has remained unchecked for a long time, which has led to an unexpected turn where the policy has shifted from uplifting marginalized groups to creating certain privileged sections within those groups. While the reservation system has its advantages, it is also subject to debates regarding its implementation and potential drawbacks.
  1. Only reserved are considered deserved: According to a national survey, only 0.7% of the entire population receives scholarships based on merit, while the rest go to reserved categories. Deserving students from the General Category often do not get a chance to seize opportunities, even if they come from financially poor backgrounds. It is time to amend laws and change the rules for the better.
  2. Should be income-based: Another argument against the reservation system is that it is caste-based rather than income-based. An income-based reservation system would ensure that all poor people receive reservations regardless of their caste, as poverty does not discriminate based on caste. If the nation aims to bring equality among citizens, it should opt for an income-based reservation system rather than one based on caste.
  3. Vote-bank politics: Another limitation of this system is that politicians and political parties with vested interests often use the reservation card to win elections, leading to the division of the nation. Politicians use reservation as a tool to manipulate the citizenry's emotions and win elections instead of using it for the betterment of the country's people.
  4. Equality leading to inequality: In addition to being a form of reverse discrimination, the reservation system can also counter-intuitively create barriers against inter-caste and inter-faith marriages.
  5. Creamy layer issues: The existence of a 'creamy layer' within reserved categories (especially SCs and STs), comprising economically privileged individuals, can perpetuate inequality as benefits may not reach those who genuinely need them.
  6. Backlash and resentment: The reservation system has resulted in feelings of resentment among some sections of society, particularly those individuals who feel unfairly excluded from opportunities due to gender or caste quotas.
  7. Mismatch in skills and impact on meritocracy: The reservation system has been criticized for potentially compromising meritocracy. Individuals admitted through reservations may face challenges in keeping up with academic or professional demands, leading to concerns about the effectiveness of the system in achieving its intended goals.
India's affirmative action program was launched in 1950 and is the oldest such program in the world. The most common problem in those days i.e. untouchability, has been eradicated in most places. It is now rare in both rural and urban areas. However, it must be acknowledged that this practice has not been fully overcome.

Therefore, it is not that the reservation system is completely wrong or should be abolished, but its old ways are somehow leading to a biased or unjust scenario for many categories. Therefore, there could be a need for a new system. I believe that this system should not be abolished, but modified. By this, I propose a new way of implementing reservations.

I believe that a systemic change is necessary because if a person with 55% marks can secure a seat over a more meritorious candidate; this can lead to a decline in the quality of governance and decision-making processes. Therefore, the new system should put equal emphasis on both need andmerit. This should be done through a fair and transparent process that evaluates candidates based on their academic achievements and actual need for reservation. It should not be enough for a person to simply belong to a particular category to receive reservation benefits; there should be a thorough background check to ensure that those who truly need reservations are the ones who benefit.

This could be achieved through a caste census and class census, which would help identify the actual needy individuals who require reservations. This approach would weed out the economically and politically influential individuals who do not genuinely need reservation benefits. Such a system would encourage hard work and merit-based achievements, leading to better governance and progress for the state and the nation as a whole.

Bhagvad Gita mentions in Chapter 4, Verse 13,
(Meaning: The four categories of occupations were created by Me according to people's qualities and activities. Although I am the Creator of this system, know Me to be the Non-doer and Eternal)

This means that the Vedas classify people into four categories of occupations, not according to their birth, but according to their qualities. This means that caste or class doesn't divide people into certain types of work; they are free to do any work, and caste and class should not be determined by birth.

Thus, in essence, the journey towards a more equitable society requires acknowledging the complexities of historical injustices while embracing a forward-thinking approach. By redefining reservation policies to prioritize both need and merit, we can pave the way for a system that fosters talent, rewards hard work, and promotes inclusivity.

As Bhagavad Gita wisely indicates, categorization based on qualities rather than birth is key to unlocking true potential and achieving unity in diversity. This holistic perspective not only ensures fair opportunities but also contributes to the overall progress and prosperity of our nation, embodying the spirit of equality and empowerment for all.

  • Article 15 of the Constitution of India. (n.d.). Wikipedia.
  • Chopra, M. (2021). Reservation system in India: advantages and disadvantages. (n.d.). International Journal of Economic Perspectives, 15(1), 30-37.
  • Reservation in India. (n.d.). Wikipedia.
  • Reservation in India. (n.d.-b). Lawyers in India.

Award Winning Article Is Written By: Mr.Vishnu Kant Srivastava
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