The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Govt grapples with quota knot

New Delhi, March 30: Mounting pressure from allies forced the Congress to rack its brains this evening to find a way out of the quota tangle but the law ministry advised caution while dealing with the Supreme Court.

Late tonight, the government issued a statement hinting at a fresh law to circumvent the court stay on the operation of the 27 per cent OBC quota in state-run higher education institutes.

But sources said the government is keeping its options open and the statement was primarily aimed at pacifying allies who have started to speak of drastic measures and have called a bandh in Tamil Nadu tomorrow.

A confrontation between the executive and the judiciary was looming through the day with many parties calling for Parliament’s intervention to ensure that the OBC quota is implemented at the earliest.

The court order had thrown into uncertainty the admission process of IIMs that had interviewed OBC candidates for the academic session beginning this June.

“We reiterate the UPA government’s resolve to ensure that there is no compromise with (the) commitment towards social justice,” the human resource development ministry said in the statement issued after a meeting of the Congress core group headed by Sonia Gandhi.

“The UPA government is committed to make appropriate laws in this regard,” the statement said.

But it added that “the government is weighing all legal options” and that allies and other parties would be consulted.

If the government sheds its misgivings and decides to change the law — which will trigger a clash with the court — one suggestion was to amend the existing bill to state that the 1931 census is the valid benchmark for giving OBC reservation. The court had said 76-year-old data cannot be used to determine the quantum of the OBC quota.

Sources said the government will “prefer” to explore and exhaust legal options before tapping Parliament.

One option is to file a review petition, seeking a modification of the interim order before the same two-judge bench. Or, it can request the court to advance the hearing on the core issue — the constitutional validity of the OBC quota — before June, which may be referred to a constitution bench.

But the law ministry has apparently cautioned against approaching the court in a hurry. The ministry has pointed out that the court has not made any adverse comment on the merit of quota itself.

The law ministry feels that the final order could go in favour of quotas, and the government should not do anything to hurt its chances. The same logic was put forth to caution against a constitutional amendment.

Sources claimed that the Prime Minister assured human resource development minister Arjun Singh, the quota bill spearhead, that “there will be no going back”. Arjun was invited to the core group meeting, although he is not a member of the elite political club.

Government sources, however, said the Prime Minister is not inclined to set the stage for a confrontation with the court.

The sources also discounted the possibility of an emergency session of Parliament — as demanded by some allies – and said the House would reconvene as scheduled on April 26.

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