Is the Controversy Over UGC Draft Guidelines Just a Temporary Setback?

Potential Resurfacing, A Looming Concern After the 2024 Lok Sabha Elections
Student unions including SFI, AISA held protests outside the UGC office in Delhi on January 29.
Student unions including SFI, AISA held protests outside the UGC office in Delhi on January 29. (File Pic - Twitter)

The issue of reservation in India has long been a subject of intense debate and scrutiny, shaping the contours of social and political discourse. Recent developments surrounding the draft guidelines proposed by the University Grants Commission (UGC) have reignited this contentious topic, bringing it to the forefront of national attention once again. Amidst widespread reactions and criticisms, there is a prevailing sense of apprehension regarding the future trajectory of reservation policies in the country, particularly in the aftermath of the upcoming 2024 Lok Sabha elections. As stakeholders grapple with the implications of potential changes, the stage is set for a renewed dialogue on the complex interplay between social justice, political dynamics, and affirmative action measures.

The History

After independence on 15 August 1947, during the tenure of India's first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, on the recommendation of the government, under Article 340 of the Constitution of India, the then first President Rajendra Prasad (26 January, 1950 to May 13, 1962) constituted the first Backward Classes Commission on January 29, 1953. The Chairman of this Commission was Kaka Kalelkar. That is why, this Commission is also known as Kaka Kalelkar Commission. This commission submitted its report to the Government of India on 30 March, 1955. According to the report, a list of 2,399 backward castes in India was prepared and out of these, 837 castes were classified as 'starred' (most backward castes). Although Jawaharlal Nehru was a progressive and socialist thinker and had an unprecedented majority in the Parliament, yet he could not implement this report like the Hindu Code Bill due to the opposition of reactionary and backward class MPs from the golden castes.

After the State of Emergency (1975-1977), when the Janata Party led Morarji Desai government was formed at the Centre, then as per the advice of the government, the then President of India Neelam Sanjiva Reddy (25 July, 1977 to 25 July, 1982) announced the scheme for the socially and educationally backward classes. Socially and Educationally Backward Classes Commission (SEBC) was constituted on 1 January, 1979 to identify the situation of various backward classes in India. The chairman of this commission was MP Bindeshwari Prasad Mandal (BP Mandal – former Chief Minister of Bihar, a rich landowner belonging to the Yadav caste). Hence, it is known as Mandal Commission (1979).

The Mandal Commission visited many districts of India and contacted representatives of different castes. When this commission came to Karnal (rest house), the representative of Kamboj caste Ch. Dr. Ramjilal was also the author of the article presented along with Deshraj Kamboj. Both of us informed the Commission about the facts of educational, economic and employment participation related to Kamboj caste. SS Gill (Youth Officer) was the Secretary of the Commission. The Commission Chairman and Secretary talked very civilly and peacefully. After a year, the Commission presented its report to the President on 31 December 1980. Many recommendations were made in the Mandal Commission Report (1980).

According to the Mandal Commission report, the number of backward castes in India is 3743 (52% of the total population). 27% was recommended for backward castes in jobs in education and public sector. After the fall of the governments of Morarji Desai and Chaudhary Charan Singh, Mrs. Indira Gandhi (1980-1984) and Rajiv Gandhi (1984-1989) came into power. Like Jawaharlal Nehru, the governments of Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi also had an unprecedented majority in the Parliament. But due to pressure from anti-reservation upper caste MPs, reservation could not be implemented and the Mandal Commission report was shelved.

After the defeat of the Congress Party in the elections (November 1989), a coalition government was established at the center under the leadership of V.P. Singh (2 December 1989 to 10 November 1990). On August 7, 1989, a notification was issued to implement the Mandal Commission report. According to this notification, 27% reservation was made for backward classes in education, government jobs and public facilities. After this notification, there was protest by the students, youth and public of upper castes especially in Northern India. Reservation was implemented. Some senior leaders were against this reservation from Bharatiya Janata Party, Congress Party. The leaders like Devi Lal and Chandrashekhar did not support this policy.

On the other hand, 'Ram Rath Yatra' was organized from Somnath temple to Ayodhya under the leadership of Bharatiya Janata Party leader L.K. Advani. V.P. Singh was against it. He knew that his government was a guest for a few days and could fall at any time. After the arrest of Advani on 23 October 1990, the Bharatiya Janata Party withdrew its support and on 7 November, 1990, a motion of no confidence was passed in the Lok Sabha against the government of V.P. Singh. As a result, V.P. Singh's government had to resign.

At present, the number of Scheduled Castes in India is 1108, the number of Scheduled Tribes is 730 (Census 2011) and the number of backward classes is 5013 (Daily Tribune (Chandigarh). 27 February, 2021. (Page, 8). According to the Constitution (Scheduled Tribes) Orders (Amendment) Bill, 2024 and the Constitution (Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes) Orders (Amendment) Bill, 2024, there are three – (Bondo Porja, Khond Porja, Parangiperja) ethnic groups in Andhra Pradesh and four in Odisha. The groups are being added to the list of Scheduled Tribes. After 76 years of independence, 75 Primitive Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs) from Andaman Islands have been added to the scheduled list. Names of 10 such PVTGs of Andaman Islands were not added to the list of Scheduled Tribes.

After this amendment, bill becomes a Constitution Amendment Act and the Act comes into force, the number of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes will increase. This is a commendable historic step by the BJP led NDA government under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. This will remove the inequalities and lead to social, economic and educational development of these Scheduled Tribes and Primitive Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs) and these castes will proudly say, 'We are also Indians.’

The decision of V.P. Singh's government to implement the recommendations of the Mandal Commission left an indelible mark on politics and the political debate of 'Mandal vs. Kamandal' started and the term 'social justice' became more popular. Those castes {like Jat in Haryana and Maratha in Maharashtra} who were opposing reservation in November 1990, later demanded reservation. The demand for caste reservation moved towards 'vote bank' politics. As a result, the number of castes in the reserved category is continuously increasing.

The implementation of the Mandal Commission's recommendation was challenged in the Supreme Court. In the historic decision of 16 November, 1992 in the Indira Sawhney controversy by a nine-judge bench of the Supreme Court, 27% reservation for OBCs was declared constitutional but at the same time the 'creamy layer' was added. As a result, the recommendations of the Mandal Commission became ‘diluted’.

After the decision of the Supreme Court, the reservation limit cannot exceed 50%. There is a provision of 27% reservation for OBC, 15% for SC, 7.5% for ST. That means, the total is 49.5%. Whereas the population of these castes - OBC is 52%, SC is 15% and ST is 7.5%, that is, the population of these three categories is 74.5% of the total population of India. That is why, this slogan is raised again and again, 'The greater the number, the greater the share'.

Under Articles 15 (4) and 16 (4) of the Constitution of India, the Central and State Governments have been enabled to implement the provision of reservation. According to the 77th Amendment Act, 1995 of the Constitution, the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. There is a system of reservation in promotion.

According to the 103rd Amendment Act, 2019 of the Constitution, 10% reservation was made for Economically Backward People (EWS) in educational institutions and public jobs. Around 60% seats are reserved in respect of government jobs and higher education institutions for various categories like SC, ST, OBC and EWS. 3% seats in all categories are also reserved for persons with disabilities. Besides, the upper age and marks limit etc. have been reduced for reserved categories. According to the Central Educational Institutions (Reservation in Teacher Cadre) Act, 2019, there is a provision of reservation for all the posts of direct recruitment. Not only this, but only SC or ST or OBC candidates other than SC or ST or OBC candidates cannot be appointed to the vacant seats reserved for SC or ST or OBC in Central Educational Institutions (CEIs).

UGC Draft: Background of Guidelines

In 2016, a four-member expert committee was formed. The main objective of this committee was to replace the 2006 guidelines of the government's reservation policy in educational institutions. This committee prepared the draft of reservation in 2016 itself. This reservation draft remained in cold storage for a gap of seven years (from 2016 to December 2023). Continued protests regarding OBCs, SCs and STs in higher educational institutions and jobs continued internally and externally in newspapers and social media.

What kind of situation had arisen in the context of current politics that is taking inspiration from the brochure of 2016, the instructions given by the UGC without any research and thinking, the bottled genie of de-reserving the reserved seats on 27th December, 2023 was put into the public domain. An attempt was made to gather public feedback by posting it within a month.

On January 28, 2024, newspapers published plans to implement the draft guidelines of UGC. Critics and commentators criticized these instructions as 'an alarm bell for the spirit of social justice' and 'the spirit of reservation' mentioned in the Indian Constitution. The UGC draft created controversy by calling it “Hungama Draft”. On the same day, the UGC and the Education Ministry had to issue a clarification that reserved seats in colleges and universities would not be unreserved. Next day on 29 January, 2024 the draft guidelines disappeared from the official website of the University Grants Commission (UGC). In this background, it is extremely essential to analyze the main focus points of the guidelines given in the draft of UGC.

Chapter 10 of UGC Draft: Main focus points of de-reserving reserved seats:

In fact, Chapter 10 of the UGC Draft Guidelines has the following focal points for ending reservation or de-reserving reserved seats:

  • “The vacancy reserved for SC or ST or OBC cannot be filled by any candidate other than a SC or ST or OBC candidate, as the case may be.

  • “However, a reserved vacancy can be declared unreserved by following the procedure for unreserved, after which it can be filled as an unreserved vacancy.”

  • “There is a general restriction on de-reserving reserved vacancies in case of direct recruitment. However, in rare and exceptional cases, when there is a vacancy in a group, a service cannot be allowed to remain vacant in the public interest, the University concerned may prepare a proposal for reservation of the vacancy giving the following information: It is necessary to list the efforts made to fill the post, and the reasons why it cannot be allowed to remain vacant and the justification for cancelling the reservation.'

  • “The proposal for de-reservation in the case of Group C or D should go to the Executive Council of the University, and in the case of Group A or B should be submitted to the Ministry of Education giving full details for necessary approval, once the approval is received, the post can be filled and reservation can be carried forward,”

  • In case of promotion, if sufficient number of SC and ST candidates are not available for promotion against the reserved vacancies, such vacancies may be unreserved and filled by candidates from other communities”

  • If certain conditions are fulfilled, the power to approve reservation of reserved vacancies in such cases will be entrusted to the UGC and the Ministry of Education.

  • “The proposal may be considered if any candidate belonging to the category for which the vacancy is reserved is not available within the area or extended area of consideration or is not eligible for promotion to the feeder cadre specified in the Recruitment Rules.”

  • “The approval of de-reservation has been seen and agreed to by the Liaison Officer for SC and ST of the University. The proposal for de-reservation has been agreed to by the UGC and the appropriate authority in the Ministry of Education.

  • “In case of disagreement between the appointing authority and the Liaison Officer for SC and ST of the University, the advice of the Department of Personnel and Training is obtained and implemented.”

UGC Draft Guidelines: Reaction to the Uproar

According to the famous scientist Newton's law of motion, every action has an opposite and equal reaction. This principle applies not only to speed but also to politics. This draft guideline was opposed by political parties, political leaders and social workers. There was a sharp criticism from students and teachers organizations. Not only this, criticism continued on social media hash tags also.

National President of Congress Party, Mallikarjun Kharge has held the Bharatiya Janata Party responsible for ending reservation by following these guidelines.

Congress Party General Secretary, Jairam Ramesh, criticized this draft, calling it a 'conspiracy to end reservation'.

Jawaharlal Nehru University (Delhi) Students' Union (JNSU) also threatened to 'demonstrate and burn the effigy' of UGC Chairman Jagdish Kumar.

On 29 January, 2024, student organizations of Delhi - All India Students Association (AISA), Students Federation of India (SFI) and Krantikari Yuva Sangathan (KYS) activists protested outside the University Grants Commission (UGC) headquarters and accused the Indian government's reservation policy of being a 'casteist draft' guidelines.

The delegation of student organizations handed over the demand letter to the UGC officials and also met them. According to the delegation, UGC officials have “accepted their mistake by introducing the discriminatory clause”. The delegation was assured by the UGC officials that this section would be removed from the revised draft.

Reactions against the guidelines of UGC draft were even more intense in the South Indian states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. Mano Thangaraj, Minister of Milk and Dairy Development of Tamil Nadu Government, rejected this as 'killing of reservation'. PMK founder Dr Ramdas criticized the UGC guidelines, calling them 'death to social justice'.

Dr. M.C. Sudhakar, Minister of Higher Education, Government of Karnataka, criticized the lack of qualified and suitable candidates for the backlog posts, saying, “There are a lot of eligible candidates for the backlog posts.” Social and political activist Hans Raj Meena criticized the draft UGC guidelines as 'an anti-reservation move' and called on the government to 'immediately reverse this decision'. Several thousand users on the hash tag also condemned UGC by calling it a 'casteist organisation'.

After the negative reaction and uproar against the draft, the Union Ministry of Education and the UGC had to withdraw it. The Ministry of Education of the Government of India, while clarifying on the social media platform Form-X, wrote that the reserved teacher post will not be unreserved. “Reservation is provided for all posts of direct recruitment in central educational institutions,” the Union Education Ministry wrote. According to the provision of the Central Educational Institutions (Reservation in Teacher Cadre) Act, 2019, “No reserved post will be unreserved”. The Union Education Ministry gave strict orders to all the central educational institutions to fill the vacant posts as per the (Reservation in Teacher Cadre) Act, 2019.

UGC Chairman M. Jagadish Kumar also clarified, saying, “No reservation of reserved category posts in Central Educational Institutions [CEIs] has been canceled in the past and no such reservation is going to be canceled. It is important for all [higher education institutions] to ensure that all backlog posts of reserved category are filled through concerted efforts.”

According to M. Jagadish Kumar, Union Education Ministry of the Government of India and Chairman of the UGC, if there is no provision to end the reservation i.e. de-reserve, then it is a question as to on what basis the reserved posts were de-reserved. It is beyond our understanding as to whose orders UGC conspired to unreserve the reserved seats? at the time, when the President of India, Her Excellency, Mrs. Draupati Murmu is from the Scheduled Tribe and Prime Minister Narendra Modi is from OBC. Not only this but out of 303 Lok Sabha members of Bharatiya Janata Party, 85 (29%) are OBC, 29 ministers in the Union Cabinet are OBC, all over India Of the 1358 BJP MLAs in the state assemblies, 27% are OBC MLAs and 40% of the members of 163 state legislative councils are OBC members. Were these members taken into consideration for unreserved seats? This is an important question.

According to political commentators, this issue has been put on the back burner for now. But they suspect that an attempt will be made to implement it again after the Lok Sabha elections 2024 and there is a possibility of change in reservation

- The Author Dr.Ramjilal is a social scientist and retired as Principal, Dyal Singh College, Karnal (Haryana).

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any organization, institution, or individual mentioned herein.

Student unions including SFI, AISA held protests outside the UGC office in Delhi on January 29.
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Student unions including SFI, AISA held protests outside the UGC office in Delhi on January 29.
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