Hike in seats: A hasty ill-conceived decision

On January 14, the Union Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment has issued a notification, making it mandatory to implement 10 per cent reservation for economically backward among the general category in jobs in government and higher educational institutions, as per the Constitution (One hundred and third Amendment) Act, 2019. Following this, HRD Minister Prakash Javadekar has announced a decision to hike 25% seats in institutions of higher education, including unaided private institutions, from the next academic year 1919-20. This at a time when the constitution amendment is challenged in Supreme Court and the constitutional validity of the reservation is yet to be tested.

It is a hasty ill-conceived decision by the HRD Ministry. Javadekar justified the decision stating that it would “ensure that the existing quota” for the SCs, STs and OBCs is not affected. This is very misleading. If out of 100 seats, 10 per cent is given to the students belonging to the general category, how does it disturb the existing quota? What is the need to increase the number of seats so high? What he has not realised is the implications and the practical difficulty in enforcing the decision. The HRD Ministry hopes to achieve this through a Bill to be introduced in the budget session of Parliament. And as far as the central universities are concerned, it will be implemented by an executive order.

There are more than 40,000 colleges and 900 universities across the country. The annual intake of central universities-including IITs, NITs and IIMs — is 9.28 lakh seats, out of some 37 million total enrolment of students in higher education. That would mean adding 3.3 million additional seats in the central universities alone, not to speak of state universities and private and deemed universities. There is an acute shortage of skilled and talented teachers. More than 5600 teaching posts are vacant in the central universities. And thousands of teaching posts remain unfilled in technical institutions like the IITs and IIMs etc.

with more than 2800 being vacant in IITs. The teachers are appointed on contract due to non-availability of qualities candidates and the youth not showing interest in teaching profession. Filling these posts with qualified teachers should have been the priority. Regarding the reservation of jobs in government, the HRD Ministry itself is not able to fill up the posts reserved for various categories. The SCs, STs and OBCs are under-represented in the higher echelons of the union government- Group A and Group B- and most of its institutions. Even among the non-teaching staff, only 8.96 %, 4.24% and 10.17% belong to SC, ST and OBC categories respectively. Out of 665 officers of Group A and Group B in the HRD Ministry and its subordinate offices, 440 (66.17%) are from the general category.

In the Railways, nearly 70 per cent of jobs are taken away by the non-reserved category. What is not understood is that it is not possible to fill the posts from various reserved categories in proportion to their population, because the choice of courses and jobs and the degree of competence and opportunities are totally different from category to category. Then what is the rationale in reserving all posts in every public service and then this reservation for so-called economically backward sections? Why this hullabaloo? It is more a propaganda.

The educational institutions are already having overcrowded classrooms, with 3-4 students squeezing in one bench. Presently, the Colleges under Mumbai Universities are admitting more than 100 students in a division. And this increase of 25 per cent will create havoc, making the classrooms and motley crowd unmanageable. The existing infrastructure will crumble the institutions unable to cope up with the burden of additional students and increased workload, besides affecting further the already unhealthy student-teacher ratio.

Since the HRD Ministry is working on a national education policy, it must take into consideration the awful working conditions of both the government and the private schools instead. The education system in the country side is in a serious crisis. According to the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER), 2018, carried out by the NGO Pratham, 1 out of 4 children in rural India leaves Class 8 without acquiring basic reading skills and some 60 percent of them do not have basic numerical literacy. Only a little more than half of all children in class 5 can read a Class 2 level text. The ASER says 56% of Class 8 students can’t solve a basic division problem.

The Zilla Parishad High Schools in States like Telangana are functioning without basic amenities and infrastructure , facing the problems of unusable toilets due to lack of tap water, computer lab not having instructor, library without an assistant and poor infrastructure and running schools without even a single sanctioned post of sweeper. The schools are neglected, badly affecting the quality of teaching and learning.

The irony of the present political dispensation is its policy decisions do not reflect the hard ground reality. There is a total mismatch between the hype and the reality. The implications of financial burden are not studied. The HRD Ministry is silent on financial burden, accruing from the hike in seats. What about the students who can’t afford the high fees charged by private institutions? Who will bail them out? The higher education sector is heading towards turmoil in the days ahead.

G Ramachandram is a professor of Political Science, retired principal and an independent author.

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