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6 to 2, quota thumbs-down
- Knowledge Commission divided on education reservation

Bangalore, May 8: The group assigned the job of making India a knowledge powerhouse today mirrored the reservation divide, with most of its members against the move to set aside seats for backward class students in central institutions.

Technocrat Sam Pitroda, the chairman of the National Knowledge Commission, said there was a difference of opinion within the panel.

“Six of the eight members feel that until such time as we have explored new and more effective avenues of affirmative action, status quo should be maintained and reservations should not be extended as proposed,” he told a news conference.

As of now, only Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe students enjoy the benefits of reservation, with 22.5 per cent of the seats set aside for them in central educational institutions, including the IITs and IIMs. If human resource development minister Arjun Singh’s proposal is implemented, it would take the total number of reserved seats to 49.5 per cent.

Besides Pitroda, those against extending reservation are Infosys CEO Nandan Nilekani, political scientist Pratap Bhanu Mehta, a columnist for The Telegraph, Deepak Nayyar, an economics professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University, sociologist Andre Beteille, and Ashok Ganguly, the chairman of ABP Ltd and former chief of Hindustan Lever.

Jayati Ghosh, the chairperson of the Centre for Economic Studies and Planning, JNU, is in favour of extending reservations.

Another member, P.M. Bhargava, the commission’s vice-chairman and widely regarded as the architect of biotechnology in the country, said there is a need to set up at least four million government schools, educate students and reduce the quantum of reservations gradually over the years. “Till then, reservations should continue.”

Pitroda, who released a commission statement on reservations, underlined the need for effective policies to make educational institutions more socially inclusive but called for further debates and careful thought. The commission, he added, would soon bring the opinion of the members to the Prime Minister’s notice.

Nayyar, who was also present at the conference, said after 50 years of independence, there was a need to explore alternative means to help the deprived.

The comments came days after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told a convocation in Mumbai about the need to “strike a fair balance between doing good and doing well, between ensuring equity and pursuing excellence” at the annual convocation of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences.

“To focus on one and lose sight of the other cannot serve the interests of either the organisation for which you work or society at large,” he said.

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