The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Pandora’s box awaits opener
Students ask Delhi: Afraid'

The independent commission that students opposing the proposed 27 per cent quota for Other Backward Classes have demanded might be a Pandora’s box in India’s vote-bank politics.

In their charter of demands submitted to the government, the students have specified in great detail the aims and objectives of the commission they want established to review India’s reservation policy.

They want it to be a “non-political, non-parliamentary commission with members from judicial, social sciences, educational and scientific backgrounds”.

The government told students on Sunday that it would examine their demand for a commission, but they have refused to budge from their stand that the reservation policy should wait until such a commission submits its findings.

The students want the commission to assess the efficiency of the existing reservation system and draw up socio-economic criteria that could be used to exclude from any quota system the affluent and those with access to higher education and jobs.

On their wish list, the students have said the commission should explore other options of affirmative action and compare the efficiency of these with that of the existing reservation system.

“What has reservation achieved in all these years' Who have been the beneficiaries' Have the most economically and socially backward among the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes actually benefited' The country needs answers,” said Vinod Patro, a resident doctor at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi. “Is the government afraid of what such an exercise will turn up'”

The students also want the commission to define “parameters” to determine the degree of uplift and empowerment for the backward sections so that when the adequate degree is achieved, the government can stop affirmative action.

The students have said the commission should determine if the Mandal Commission’s recommendations require a review or modifications because it identified certain castes as backward on the basis of a report in the early 1930s.

“Is caste data from the 1930s relevant in 2006'” asked a resident doctor at the University College of Medical Sciences.

A top social scientist said the demand for a commission was “legitimate and timely”, but one that the government might find difficult to implement.

“I can understand this demand. We have a young generation today which has a negative view of politicians and is looking for rational solutions,” said Yogendra Singh, professor emeritus at the Centre for Study of Social Systems in JNU. “This is a reasonable demand as reservations would be based on scientific data.”

Singh said that decades ago, an attempt to generate caste data had failed. “This had been envisaged during the Mandal Commission exercise in the 1970s. A study had been designed to sample villages in each district. But for various reasons, the exercise was not completed.”

The dominance of OBCs in India’s political spectrum would make it difficult for the Centre to quickly accept a commission, Singh said. “They make up significant numbers and have political power.”

“We need an exercise to determine who’s really needy and deprived,” said Srinivas Murthy, professor of electrical engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology, New Delhi, where students began an anti-quota relay hunger strike yesterday.

“Such a commission might lead to more effective affirmative action policies to achieve social justice,” Murthy said.

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