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Rohit Singh
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Tue, 11 Apr 2006

IIT Reservation Saga...

The post of India's Human Resource Development Minister seems to draw a special kind of idiot to itself-- one whose views on education and culture are way out of the mainstream and who is only too happy to fix things which ain't broke yet. M M Joshi in the last government and Arun Singh this time prove my point. What's worse, they are both people who've seen better times, politically speaking, and often use the HRD ministry in a futile attempt to get some of that lost limelight back on themselves.

Affirmative action in India is a difficult issue. I do believe that some proactive strategy is needed to provide equal opportunities to historically disadvantaged communities. If quotas prove to be the most effective-- and I am far from sure they are-- my preferred solution would've been close to what the Supreme Court said a few years ago-- make quotas rare, make them economically-focused rather than caste-focused, and ensure that nobody becomes a 2nd-generation quota-benefitee, i.e., once one of your parents got it, you won't. But it's easy to understand that others have different opinions on this.

What's not easy to understand is how Arjun Singh is bandying about a humongous increase in the current quotas-- to slightly short of 50%. WTF!! We might as well get rid of any fantasy of a meritocracy and have all colleges or PSUs just accept candidates based on how politically powerful a group they belong to. Moreover, we'll be screwing up things for a long time to come: as Tavleen Singh at Indian Express pointed out, no party can currently afford to be seen as opposing more reservation; and future rescindment of any such quota increase is just unimaginable, even though our constitution planners put in a sunset clause on quotas originally.

The funny thing is, at least at the IITs, they are already having trouble having enough SC/ST students make it through their pipeline. The IITs are one of the few Indian colleges which execute well the philosophy that even if a student makes it by clearing a lower bar, his/her subsequent educational progress is held up to the same standard as the others. Non-performers are kicked out. Even with 22.5% reservation, people are kicked out. Making it 50% would only effectively decrease the number of people who graduate from IITs. This Rediff column is also interesting.

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