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Last word on quota verdict is yet to be heard

By Onkar Singh in New Delhi
April 12, 2008 14:46 IST
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Residents doctors and student of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences were keeping their finders crossed on Thursday morning as they awaited the verdict of the five-judge constitutional bench of the Supreme Court on providing 27 per cent reservation to Other Backward Classes in central educational institutions.

"Two years ago, we had started the fight against reservation and Thursday was the day when things were going to be decided," said Dhruv Suri, a young law student from Indraprastha University who, along with few others, had launched the United Students Front against the move to provide reservation to backward classes.

Dhruv, from the beginning, felt that not much would be achieved by moving the Supreme Court and that the best course was to take to the streets and force the government to see their point of view that greater reservation would practically leave no alternative for bright students but to move abroad for studies and settle down there for good.

Two years ago, when Human Resource Development Minister Arjun Singh announced the government's intention to reserve 27 per cent seats for the OBCs, doctors, engineers and others from the general category were up in arms. Delhi took the lead in the subsequent protests and other cities in the country followed.

Parents supported their wards to the hilt. Tents were put up and air coolers were pressed into service to ensure that striking doctors, particularly those from leading hospitals and medical colleges, don't face the brunt of excess heat.

On the other hand, the backward classes preferred to leave things upon fate to decide. "Last time it was Dr Venugopal (then AIIMS director) who was instigating anti-reservationists and now that he has been eased out; not a word has been said against the Supreme Court judgment," said one of the doctors who led the pro-reservation movement couple of years ago.

They feel let down by the court's order to keep the creamy layer out.

Shiv Khera, the motivational guru, as he is known amongst students led the anti-reservation movement along with the parliamentarian Navjot Singh Sidhu. In fact, it was Khera who moved the Supreme Court and raised certain constitutional issues.  

"Unfortunately, the issue of private institutions has still not been settled. I am consulting my lawyer to find out if I could seek a few clarifications from the honourable court, which has given us a balanced judgment and kept the sons and daughters of ex-legislators and ex-parliamentarians out of the reservation policy, as they fall under the category of creamy layer," Khera points out.

Dr Anirudh Lochan is one of the founder members of Youth for Equality. A student of the University College of Medicine, affiliated to the Safdarjung Hospital, Dr Lochan is awaiting allotment of seat in one of the post graduate medical institutes in Delhi.

"The judgment has been changed here and there. But essentially it is the same as one read out by Baba Sahib Bhim Rao Ambedkar in the constituent assembly when he pleaded that reservation for the backward classes should be done for a period of 10 years or so. Sixty years later the same thing is still continues. One good thing is that the court is now going to monitor the caste-based report every five year.

"I would say the most prominent feature of the judgment is that they have said that once the student is a graduate, he/she will no longer enjoy the benefit of reservation. This means that in the post graduate institutes, there are no reservations." he says.

Though the judgment was announced on Thursday, legal luminaries like Arun Jaitley are still trying to analyse its pros and cons. No wonder doctors, who had been giving sound bites to television cameras, switched off their mobile phones and were sitting with their lawyers to understand the contents of the 630-page judgement. 

Dr Kapil Yadav and Dr Sukhbir Singh, who spear headed the pro-reservation movement announced by government of India two years ago on behalf of Progressive Medicos and Scientists Forum, were guarded in their response.  

"We have still not got copies of the judgment. So our responses are based on what is coming in the media," they told late Friday night.  

"While anti-reservationists claim that a student loses benefit of reservation once he/she is a graduate, the Law Ministry says this benefit would be available to post graduate students. Who do we believe? So unless we have seen full text of the judgment we would not be able to say whether the judgment has given us something. The only movement forward is that anti-reservationists now agree that we do need reservation," he explained.

Dr Sukhbir Singh from Haryana, who favours reservation for downtrodden sections particularly the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and backward classes, says: "We need to get some clarifications from the apex court. First of all, the term creamy layer would have to be redefined as the earlier definition is very old.

"Then you say that those who have got reservation once cannot get its benefit again. Then you fix the percentage of marks for admission. From where will the son/daughter of a rickshaw driver will get 50 per cent marks to compete with his colleagues. Our contention is that benefit should first be given to the downtrodden and if the seats are left, then accommodate the next upper class who needs reservation.

"In short I mean that we move up the ladder from bottom and not from top to bottom."

"We welcome the judgment of the Supreme Court validating the provision of reservation for OBCs but at the same time feel let down by the exclusion of creamy layer. The decision ratifying the OBC reservation is 50 years late, but still is a step forward and would help in assimilation of the backward section of society with the mainstream," the pro-reservationists pointed out.

However, they still have a concern.

"Those who implement the policy are the same people who want to deny us this right. We also appeal to the government to ensure proper implementation of reservation policy and, as ordered by Supreme Court, ensure periodic review of it," Dr Yadav said.

Clearly, the last word on the judgment is yet to be heard.

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Onkar Singh in New Delhi