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EC forces open govt’s quota lips

New Delhi, April 8: An Election Commission rap today forced the Centre to clarify for the first time that the 27 per cent Other Backward Classes educational quota wasn’t a cut-and-dried affair.

The Union Cabinet is yet to clear the notification, the government explained hours before Sunday’s all-India IIT entrance exam, after being warned it could be violating the model code of conduct.

The Centre had so far avoided a clear statement on the status of the proposal ' which seeks to raise the overall reservation percentage to 49.5 and cover the IIMs and IITs ' preferring to wait and watch the public reaction.

The poll commission has asked human resource development (HRD) minister Arjun Singh to explain why he had publicised the plan ' which “amounts to new concessions to certain sections of the electorate” ' in the run-up to Assembly polls in five states.

The cabinet secretary is to obtain the explanation from Arjun by 5 pm on Monday and forward it to the poll authority.

The HRD ministry, however, says that neither Arjun nor anyone else in the government had ever “announced” the quotas: it was the media that had made it appear so.

The minister, when asked about the government’s move to extend reservation to the IIMs and IITs, had merely said: “There is a proposal under consideration. We will make an announcement after the polls.” Asked whether the overall reservations could be raised to 49.5 per cent, he had replied: “Maybe.”

Officials said the plan had been on the ministry’s table since December, when the 93rd Constitutional Amendment Act was passed. So, Arjun was merely expressing the government’s position on the subject and not airing a decision taken after the poll schedule was announced on March 1.

The quota plan has drawn exasperated criticism from the management and faculty of the IITs and IIMs ' which fear a fall in student quality ' as well as business leaders and even some Knowledge Commission members.

The quotas will have a “disintegrating impact” on India, Ratan Tata said today at a seminar where Rahul Bajaj warned that undermining merit “will take the country backwards”.

The Dalits ' the original beneficiaries of reservation ' added their own argument against the government’s move: an industry backlash against quotas might spoil the private sector job quota they had been eyeing.

President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam today offered a “solution” that is favoured by Arjun, too: increase the number of seats to offset the fall in the general candidates’ share.

The six premier B-schools have a meeting on Monday at IIM Ahmedabad ' whose director Bakul Dholakia said the government move was “debatable” ' where the subject may come up though it isn’t on the agenda.

Amid the all-round criticism, the Left stood by the government. The CPM chose to wait for a formal announcement of the quotas, but other Left parties were open in their support. “We welcome the step,” said CPI national secretary D. Raja.

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