The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Polite no to corporate quotas

New Delhi, May 31: Corporate India will focus on educating and upgrading the skills of the weaker sections, not on introducing caste-based job reservations.

“We commit to expand our current activities for disadvantaged persons with regard to scholarships, company-run private schools, partnership with government schools, in-house vocational training as well as partnerships with ITIs,” said a statement issued by 22 business houses.

The statement did not make any explicit mention of the private sector’s opposition to reservations, but the Confederation of Indian Industry’s newly-elected president and ITC chief Y.C. Deveshwar said later that companies do not favour such quotas.

“Reservation is not an objective, creating employment is the motive,” he said.

The joint statement, drawn up in response to the UPA government’s stated objective to spread affirmative action to the private sector, was described as a “historic breakthrough” by the minister concerned.

But the statement had a sentence that suggested job reservation would not be one of the components of the affirmative action.

“We are reassured to learn from the government that it has no intention of resorting to legislative action to impose a statutory obligation of reservations in industry,” the statement said. The list of signatories includes Ratan Tata, Azim Premji, N.R. Narayana Murthy, Rahul Bajaj and Kumar Mangalam Birla.

However, social justice minister Meira Kumar saw a silver lining, telling a press conference that “a year ago, the corporate groups were vehemently opposed to any talk on reservation. Now, we are in a process of a continuous dialogue with them.”

The minister evaded a direct answer on whether the UPA government has abandoned the proposal to have quotas for SC/STs in jobs in the private sector. “We are sticking to the common minimum programme which mandates us to begin a dialogue with the corporate groups for affirmative action,” said Kumar.

Her response suggested that after hitting a wall of opposition, the government has abandoned its plan ' at least for the time being ' to move a bill for reservation in jobs. The Prime Minister had also said earlier that no decision would be forced on the private sector.

Tata communicated the corporate groups’ decision to Kumar.

The statement forwarded to Kumar acknowledged the importance of affirmative action. “We recognise that industry needs to take affirmative action in a liberalised economy where the government has a reduced role and the benefits of job reservation in the PSUs for SC/STs are reduced,” it said.

Deveshwar said companies should create opportunities for backward and forward linkages, implying corporate-funded training programmes for the weaker classes.

Rahul Bajaj said “the concept of reservation in private sector is a 100 per cent no-no for us. But we are willing to provide skill upgradation.”

Onkar S. Kanwar of Apollo Tyres added: “Even if the government insists on reservation, it will not help unless the workers have the right skills and are globally competitive.”

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