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Quota steps into lobbying phase
- Legislation sent to panel with power to suggest amendments, Delhi medicos suspend agitation
Anti-quota medical students squatting at Connaught Place before
the protest was called off. Picture by Prem Singh

New Delhi, Aug. 25: In a decision that pleases all, the Centre today introduced the quota bill in Parliament and sent it to a standing committee, buying time for everyone concerned while keeping the legislation on course.

An immediate fallout was the suspension of protests — which have seen medicos clashing with police on the capital’s streets — against the decision to reserve 27 per cent seats in higher education for other backward classes.

“We have decided to suspend our agitation,” said Vinod Patro of the AIIMS Resident Doctors’ Association. Students continued their protests elsewhere, but it was only in Delhi that these had been a serious headache for the government.

The stage is now set for hectic lobbying over three months as the standing committee hears all the parties — from students to politicians — that want a say. It is empowered to recommend changes to the bill, which it will place in Parliament in the winter session.

This leaves the door ajar for amendments like exclusion of the creamy layer from quotas, which the Left has been pushing for. “We will try to get the creamy layer excluded,” CPM politburo member Sitaram Yechury said.

The government, particularly the health ministry that was grappling with hospital strikes, can breathe easy as confrontation gives way to another spell of negotiations. And the anti-quota students are happy to have more time to fight. “We will now try to organise ourselves in a better way, mobilise public opinion in our favour and explore legal options,” Patro said.

The bill itself is not under threat as it has the support of all political parties, none of whom would dare scupper a legislation that impacts the large OBC population — 52 per cent of the total population. As today was the last day of the session, it would in any case be passed only in the winter session.

It is now the norm to refer bills, except the most inconsequential, to a standing committee, which holds time-bound hearings for experts and all the parties concerned and submits recommendations.

Yechury said: “OBCs count for 52 per cent of the population; 27 per cent will get reservation. This means one out of every two OBC students will get the benefit of a seat. We want the economically weaker students to get the benefit.”

Basudev Acharia, the CPM leader in the Lok Sabha, echoed him: “We will put pressure on the government to exclude the creamy layer.”

The creamy layer — unlike the job quota, the proposed education quota does not exclude the well-off — is likely to be the most contested issue.

The UPA’s southern parties — the DMK and the PMK — do not want the creamy layer excluded. But Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, law minister H.L. Bhardwaj and science minister Kapil Sibal do.

What the bill promises

  • Guarantees 27% reservation for OBC students in higher education

  • Applies to education institutions established, maintained or aided by the central government

  • Does not apply to minority education institutions and institutions of excellence

  • Central education institutions in tribal areas also kept out

  • Will not apply to post-doctoral and specialisation courses or programmes

  • Becomes effective from academic year 2007

  • Implementation in phases spread over three years

  • Creamy layer included among the beneficiaries

  • No reduction in general category seats
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