Reform in India’s reservation system


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Article 14,15,16

Mains level: Paper 2- Need for reforms in India's reservation system


While it is undeniable that affirmative action has been one of the protagonists of Indian democracy’s success stories, these have also accumulated a fair share of problems and call for immediate policy attention and debate.

Problems with the current policy of reservation

  • With the reservation of seats in political and public institutions of the state, it was thought that the hitherto marginalised groups would be able to find place in the power sharing and decision-making processes.
  • This strategy of removal of disabilities has not translated into an equalisation of life chances for many groups in our heterogeneous society.

What are the problems?

1) Problem of reification

  • The Justice G. Rohini Commission’s report on the sub-categorisation of OBCs based on the last five years’ data on  central government jobs and OBC admissions to central higher education institutions highlights this problem.
  • The commission concluded that 97% of central OBC quota benefits go to just under 25% of its castes.
  • As many as 983 OBC communities — 37% of the total — have zero representation in both central government jobs and admissions to central universities.
  • Also, the report states that just 10% of the OBC communities have accrued 24.95% of jobs and admissions.
  • Clearly, the assumption that the disadvantages of every sub-group within each category are the same is severely misplaced.
  • Consequently, asymmetrical distribution of reservation has severely deterred political projects of unified subaltern solidarity.

2) Insufficiency of data

  • There is a dire need of accurate data pertaining to the socio-economic condition of different social groups.
  • Though caste-based reservations have been pivotal in animating upward social mobility we hardly have sufficient data about the actual reach and access of this policy measure.
  • We do not know what liberalisation has done to castes which remained tied to more traditional sources of income and were incapable of realising the new opportunities provided by the opening of the economy.
  • What is urgently required is a mechanism that can address this lacuna and make the system more accountable and sensitive to intra-group demands.

Way forward

  • Since every further categorisation will only lead to reification and fragmentation in the long run, two things are required.
  • Evidence based policy option: We need to develop a wide variety of context-sensitive, evidence-based policy options that can be tailored to meet specific requirements of specific groups.
  • Institution: We need an institution alike the Equal Opportunities Commission of the United States or the United Kingdom which can undertake two important but interrelated things:
  • 1) Make a deprivation index correlating data from the socio-economic-based census of different communities.
  • 2) Undertake an audit on performance of employers and educational institutions on non-discrimination and equal opportunity and issue codes of good practice in different sectors.
  • This will make the formulation of policy and its monitoring simpler at an institutional level.
  • Similar suggestions were made a decade ago in the recommendations that the expert committee for an Equal Opportunities Commission (2008) made in its comprehensive report that it submitted to the Ministry of Minority Affairs.


As evident, a socio-economic caste-based census becomes a necessary precondition to initiate any meaningful reform in the affirmative action regime in India.

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