[op-ed snap] Reimagining the OBC quota

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Mains Paper 2: Governance | Welfare schemes for vulnerable sections of the population by the Centre and States and the performance of these schemes; mechanisms, laws, institutions and Bodies constituted for the protection and betterment of these vulnerable sections.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not Much

Mains level: It is an important reform in reservation system of India.



  1. The article talks sub-categorization of the Other Backward Classes (OBC)

Creation of committee

  1. Recently, the government has announced the creation of a committee to look into sub-categorisation of OBC
  2. This decision provides an opening to ensure social justice in an efficient manner

Some important Statistics 

  1. The National Sample Survey (NSS) data from 2011-12 show that about 19% of the sample claims to be Dalit, 9% Adivasi, and 44% OBC
  2. Among the population aged 25-49, less than 7% have a college degree
  3. By most estimates, less than 3% of the whole population is employed in government and public-sector jobs
  4. Since reservations cover only half the college seats and public-sector jobs, the mismatch is obvious
  5. A vast proportion of the population eligible for reservations must still compete for a tiny number of reserved and non-reserved category jobs
  6. It is not surprising that there is tremendous internal competition within groups

How to make reservation a significant difference in the lives of the marginalised groups?

  1. The available public sector jobs cover around 3% population
  2. These will only offer opportunities to a minuscule fraction of individuals in reserved categories
  3. Hence, the only viable option is to reduce the size of the eligible population, possibly along the lines of sub-categorisation proposed by the government

How will Government know which castes are the most disadvantaged?

  1. At the moment, the only reputable nationwide data on caste comes from the 1931 colonial Census and some of the ad hoc surveys conducted for specific castes
  2. The Socio-Economic Caste Census (SECC) of 2011 was supposed to provide up-to-date comprehensive data
  3. In the SECC in 2015, it was found that about 4.6 million distinct caste names, including names of gotra, surname and phonetic variations were returned, making the results almost impossible to interpret
  4. For nearly 80 million individuals, caste data were believed to be erroneous
  5. Since then we have heard little about the quality of caste data in SECC and even less about its results
  6. Preparations for Census 2021 are ongoing
  7. There is still time to create an expert group to evaluate the methodology for collecting caste data and include it in the Census forms
  8. Losing this opportunity would leave us hanging for another 10 years without good data for undertaking sub-categorisation of OBC quota

How to address caste based inequalities?

  1. A two-pronged approach that focusses on eliminating discrimination and expanding the proportion of population among the disadvantaged groups could be a solution
    (1) Late Benefits
  2. The present policies focus on preferential admission to colleges and coveted institutions like IITs and IIMs
  3. But these benefits may come too late in the life of a Kurmi or Gujjar child
  4. Their disadvantage begins in early childhood and grows progressively at higher levels of education
  5. We know little about what goes on in schools to create these disadvantages but improving quality of education for all must be a first step in addressing caste-based inequalities
    (2) Benefits of reservations should be widely spread
  6. Use of the OBC quota must be limited to once in a person’s lifetime, allowing for a churn in the population benefitting from reservations
  7. Linking the Aadhaar card to use of benefits makes it possible that individuals use their caste certificates only once
  8. It will help in spreading the benefits of reservations over a wider population

The way forward

  1. The present move by the government to rethink OBC quota could potentially be used to ensure that we have better data on caste-based disadvantages for future discourse
  2. It also indicates a mood that wants to ensure that the benefits of reservation are widely spread
  3. Increased attempts at linking benefits to Aadhaar allow us with an option to ensure that reservation benefits are not captured by a few
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