The Rajasthan high court's stay on the operation of a 2008 Act providing reservations for special and economically backward classes in the state, including the Gujjar community, is welcome. Questioning the move to increase the quantum of reservation beyond 50 per cent, the court directed the state government to supply data to justify its position. Coming in the backdrop of the latest round of Gujjar agitation that has disrupted train schedules and hurt tourism in Rajasthan - and forced the Centre to dispatch paramilitary troops to restore law and order - it once again highlights the shortcomings of our reservation policy.
The Gujjar demand for special quotas in education and government jobs stems from the earlier BJP government's decision to include Jats of the state in the OBC category. The Gujjars, OBCs themselves, feared that the politically and economically influential Jats would corner reservation benefits. Hence their initial demand for inclusion in the ST category. However, this brought them in conflict with the Meena community. With the court staying the special reservation provision, the Gujjar demand has now shifted to a 5 per cent quota within quota in the OBC category. All of this illustrates the fact that the reservation system is essentially a zero sum game - providing quotas to one community necessarily means taking away benefits from others. And as more communities jostle for a piece of the reservation pie, agitations like the one by Gujjars become inevitable.
The solution lies in growing the pie, rather thinking up more ingenious ways of dividing it. The reservation policy was never meant to be implemented in perpetuity. At the time of its conception, it was supposed to run for a decade. However, the list of those entitled to quotas has only increased over more than half a century. Even for those covered by reservations, the system hasn't worked as planned. In all categories, reservation benefits have come to be cornered by a thin creamy layer.
The government, essentially, can never square the circle in a manner that will satisfy all groups. No matter how many jobs it reserves, we will never be able to address the aspirations of the vast majority of those belonging to backward communities through reservations. Rather, we need to expand opportunity by emphasising social development policies that target all-round growth. We need more schools and colleges to ensure universal access to education. We need to create more jobs so that the benefits go to all communities. The government is on the right track with programmes like Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and NREGA, but these need to be implemented well. It also needs to facilitate the private sector in creating jobs.