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Quota kickoff in Mumbai

May 10: Blessed by the high command, the Congress-led Maharashtra government has become the first in the country to try out the quota formula championed by Arjun Singh.

The Maharashtra cabinet today green-lighted a proposal to bring in an ordinance to reserve 50 per cent of seats in all professional colleges, including private unaided institutions, in the state. The government will now have to get governor S.M. Krishna’s assent to promulgate the ordinance.

The state’s move was cleared by the Congress high command in Delhi after Sonia Gandhi spoke to human resource development minister Arjun Singh, who had asked states to frame their own formulae after Parliament passed an amendment to get around a Supreme Court order that struck down quotas in educational institutions.

“Rather than allow another party to steal a march over us, we decided to let a Congress-led dispensation take the lead,” a Congress leader said in Delhi. But the Congress’s ally, the Sharad Pawar-led Nationalist Congress Party, too, claimed credit.

Sources said the Maharashtra overdrive was a “signal” to other Congress-ruled states to implement the formula and prepare the ground for an eventual announcement at the Centre. An enabling legislation to enforce quotas in centrally-run institutes like IIMs and IITs has to be passed in Parliament after cabinet clearance.

According to the Maharashtra formula, 13 per cent seats will be set aside for scheduled castes, seven per cent for scheduled tribes and 30 per cent for other backward classes (OBCs) in institutes that offer courses in medicine, pharmaceutical science, architecture, engineering and technical education.

The single biggest beneficiary of the quotas will be OBCs, the group around which the current controversy is playing itself out.

Before the Supreme Court order, 49 per cent seats in government institutions in Maharashtra were reserved.

The central amendment did not lay down specific percentages but the HRD ministry sent an advisory to states asking them to draw up individual formulae. It was assumed then that the Mandal Commission formula for government jobs ' 27 per cent for OBCs and 22.5 for SC/STs ' will be followed in education, too.

But Maharashtra has given a larger share to the OBCs, though the state has confined itself to the 50 per cent cumulative limit set by the Supreme Court.

While prescribing the caste quotas, the Maharashtra government has exempt minority-run institutions. “Unaided minority-run institutions will be permitted to reserve 66 per cent of seats for students belonging to the community,” an official said.

The draft ordinance also proposes a common entrance test, monitored by the government or an agency nominated by it, for all private professional institutions, barring deemed universities, mostly owned by powerful politicians.

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