Sachin Pilot, a Congress Member of Parliament, wrote in the Indian Express:
When talking of reservation in educational institutions, I believe we have to create a situation where no deserving student is denied an opportunity to get educated. Unfortunately we are nowhere close to this ideal situation. In fact what we have is a situation where the demand far exceeds the supply in almost all fields of study, be it medicine, engineering, management or law. Our goal should be to have so many vacancies that reservations become irrelevant. Just think back to the time as late as the early 90s when LPG and phone connections were tough to access because of supply shortages. Once they were available in abundance, the premium (and black market) for them also disappeared. Similarly, having enough number of good institutions that can absorb all those who wish to pursue higher degrees will rid us of the problem of having to ration admissions.
The solution lies in expanding our educational infrastructure starting right from primary school upwards and we ought to do this on a war footing. Why cant we create more Manipals and Punes? Why cant each state in India have two IITs and three IIMs?
Another challenge is in ensuring that only the truly needy make use of these reservation opportunities. If an individual has availed himself of the benefits of reservation and prospered, then his dependents should not be entitled to any reservation privileges. Therefore, even though I belong to the OBC community, it would be improper for my children to be admitted to an institution on grounds other than merit because they would have had all the necessary resources at their disposal to secure their own future. I think the solution lies in finding a middle ground between meritorious students not getting left out and a situation where those who have been neglected for centuries are given the systemic support to realise their dreams and aspirations.
Pratap Bhanu Mehta resigned from the Knowledge Commission set up by the Prime Minister in protest over the issue. The Indian Express carried his resignation letter in which he wrote:
These measures will not achieve social justice. I am as committed as anyone to two propositions. Every student must be enabled to realise his/her full potential regardless of financial or social circumstances. Achieving this aim requires radical forms of affirmative action. But the numerically mandated quotas your government is proposing are deeply disappointing
As a society we focus on reservations largely because it is a way of avoiding doing the things that really create access. Increasing the supply of good quality institutions at all levels (not to be confused with numerical increases), more robust scholarship and support programmes will go much further than numerically mandated quotas. When you assumed office, you had sketched out a vision of combining economic reform with social justice. Increased public investment is going to be central to creating access opportunities. It would be presumptuous for me to suggest where this increased public investment is going to come from, but there are ample possibilities: for instance, earmarking proceeds from genuine disinvestment for education will do far more for access than quotas. We are not doing enough to genuinely empower marginalised groups, but are offering condescending palliatives like quotas as substitute. All the measures currently under discussion are to defuse the agitation, not to lay the foundations for a vibrant education system. If I may borrow a phrase of Tom Paines, we pity the plumage, but forget the dying bird.
Tomorrow: My Views