The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Govt looks for quota compromise

New Delhi, May 15: The government today trod cautiously in the face of swelling protests by doctors, proposing an “incremental” increase in education quotas instead of a one-time jump.

Sources in the human resource development ministry said the idea was to phase in the hike in quotas for other backward classes (OBCs) over a number of years to make them acceptable.

Ministry officials, however, refused to put a figure on the final quota target. They said a staggered increase ' 5 per cent one year, 10 per cent the next and so on ' was what they had in mind from the beginning.

According to indications, the Centre is moving towards a 27 per cent quota for OBCs in higher education institutions, including IITs and IIMs. At present, there is a 15 per cent quota for scheduled castes and 7.5 per cent for scheduled tribes but none for OBCs.

As striking medical students refused to pipe down, the government stepped in this evening, announcing it would come up with a compromise solution.

“We will ensure a mechanism in which the interests of all sections of society are taken care of. Details are being worked out and they will be announced shortly,” Pranab Mukherjee said after a meeting chaired by the Prime Minister.

The meeting of the cabinet committee of political affairs came a day after HRD minister Arjun Singh ruled out any rollback in his quota proposal and left the decision to the cabinet.

Singh was present at the meeting. There is apprehension in the political leadership about his likely response to a question on the issue that is listed in Parliament tomorrow. He has embarrassed the government in the past and could do so again.

The 93rd constitution amendment bill, which proposes education quotas for OBCs, would also look at increasing the number of seats in technical institutions as well as medical colleges.

The nitty-gritty of the bill that would give effect to the constitutional amendment will be finalised after the cabinet approves a note circulated by the human resource development ministry. The note will have to be approved by the agriculture and health ministries also.

HRD ministry sources said the reason medical ' and not engineering/management students ' were out on the streets was that the number of seats in medical colleges had remained the same for decades.

But IITs have been systematically increasing seats. IIMs too have been doing so after the HRD ministry turned up the heat.

The sources said the ministry was aware the number of seats could not be increased overnight as there would have to be a corresponding expansion in infrastructure like hostels and academic facilities.

The one thing the ministry was clear about was that the 93rd constitutional amendment was here to stay. The Centre and states would have to make enabling provisions to give effect to it.

A ministry note says: “The delay in bringing the enabling legislation for ensuring the above reservations (for SCs/STs and OBCs) means that all private institutions become free from any responsibility of reservation or regulation of fees.”

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