New Delhi, April 7: Arjun Singh today tried to scotch speculation that the Prime Minister had been kept in the dark as his ministry drew up the plans for a 49 per cent seat quota in centrally-funded educational institutions.
Was Manmohan Singh kept in the loop, the human resource development (HRD) minister was asked.
“Very strange,” Arjun shot back. “The decision was taken by the Prime Minister in person. Now, if they have gone out of the loop, I don’t know. Some people are trying to whip up the issue. I know that,” he added without taking any names.
The Prime Minister’s Office, too, said Manmohan Singh had been kept informed.
The move to raise the reservation to 49 per cent ' by adding a 27 per cent Other Backward Classes (OBC) quota to the existing 22 per cent Scheduled Caste (SC) and Scheduled Tribe (ST) quotas ' will become an important campaign plank during the Uttar Pradesh polls next year.
Arjun is delaying a formal announcement of the plan keeping in mind the code of conduct in force for the Assembly polls in five states. A cabinet note on the move, however, is in circulation.
Once the government announces the decision, it is certain to trigger a round of vote bank politics by parties like the Congress, Samajwadi Party and Rashtriya Janata Dal. The OBCs are a formidable constituency in Uttar Pradesh.
Some in the Congress feel the quota shouldn’t apply to the creamy layer among the OBCs. But the 93rd Constitutional Amendment Act, which forms the backdrop for the current plan, does not lay down an economic criterion for reservation.
The amendment act, which sanctions reservation for “socially and educationally backward classes”, has opened up controversial possibilities, such as unaided private institutions being made to introduce quotas.
The act also allows a government to extend reservation to schools if it wants. For instance, Uttar Pradesh or Bihar can introduce reservation for SC, ST and OBC students at government schools.
The HRD ministry says the act doesn’t refer to any specific kind of educational institution, leaving all kinds open to seat reservations.
Arjun has written to the state governments asking them to honour the commitment made in the act.
The United Progressive Alliance, soon after it came to power, had started a discussion on job reservations in the private sector. Social justice minister Meira Kumar is still talking to private corporations like Ficci and the Confederation of Indian Industry.
But Tata group chairman Ratan Tata today opposed reservation in educational institutions as well as the private sector. “Though I do not want to comment on it, it (reservation) is bad... In some way, it will tend to divide the country into different groups.”