How caste census can improve our lives?July 4th, 2011
“They took pictures. They showed me on TV. But do you think they will help my son find a job?” said Budhrai Debbrama, a tribal from Tripura who was the first man out of 1.2 billion people to be surveyed in the just begun first caste census in independent India. Off course the officials did not have any answer to his question. But I do. And the answer is both a yes and a no. Yes, because this census has the potential to be a game changer for the poor and No because in it’s current manifestation it can only prove to be a game changer for our politicians.
I wrote in favour of the caste census in my post What’s your caste? where I’d given a few reasons why knowing the number of people from every caste was important. Taking it further from there I wish to lay down a few actions which our govt can take to use this statistic for the benefit of our nation. Though many of you may feel that the purpose of this census is only to serve the agenda of vote bank politics of our political parties, and you may well be right, I sincerely believe that if we follow the steps that I’m now putting forward the entire country can benefit immensely.
The most important issue of development which is the bane of our nation today is that the policies of our govt do not really benefit the deserving lot. Amongst these policies, the policy of reservations has proved to be the most controversial one. This is one policy which has led to violent protests and numerous debates with very little to show as a result. Yes, it has benefited some people but mostly it has been abused by the unscrupulous for personal gains when they did not deserve one. And no political party wants to touch it with a barge pole because of fear of loss of votes from reserved communities. Though our supreme court has laid down a ruling that the number of seats/vacancies reserved in any institution or organisation cannot exceed 50% of total seats the ruling remains only on paper what with many states like Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu openly flouting it.
Sachar committee did recommend certain measures like giving certain weightages to a candidate’s family’s income, caste, place where person has studied alongwith his performance but it emerged that there were anomalies in this formula wherein there can arise situations in which even the first ranker can be denied admission/appointment, which is clearly against the principles of natural justice. Moreover, since this involved tinkering with the percentages reserved for various castes in the present system political parties thought it best to junk the whole thing. And that’s where the whole thing lies as of now.
The steps that I’m suggesting now would not tinker with this system to begin with but will surely result in lowering of these percentages in the long run. In fact these very reserved castes will ask for it. Here’s how.
1. Link the caste census to the UID ADHAAR scheme so that we have a database for every individual alongwith his/her caste and UID number.
2. Interlink UID numbers of all members of a particular family. This way no one can ask for reservation based on fraudulent certificates which can be obtained for just a few thousand rupees today.
3. Make it compulsory for everyone in govt sector, corporates or even those working in unorganized sector under self employed small time entrepreneurs to upload details of salaries of such employees in this database.
4. Link the income tax returns of citizens to this database.
5. Make it compulsory to include UID numbers in every major financial transaction like purchase of a TV, motorcycle, mobile phones etc.
6. By doing all this in a span of a year or so we will have some kind of financial profile of nearly 50% of our population or even more. And believe me, that’s more than enough to begin with. This’ll make it amply clear that the balance 50% (or whatever the percentage is) about whom we do not have any financial data are the people who need financial help. Mind you even if we do not have this data we still have their UID numbers.
Those of you who feel that this is like encroaching on personal financial dealings need to note that our banks already have most of this data and they routinely share it with each other. If you don’t believe me try taking loans from two different banks for two different things. Both banks will tell you that you already have taken/applied for a loan of so much amount for this particular purpose from the other bank. Moreover, if we’re not doing anything illegal why should we be scared in any case?
7. Coming back to the issue of reservations, now without changing the percentage of reservations and irrespective of any caste exclude all those people who have an annual family income of more than Rs 2,50,000. That is to say that any family having an annual income of more than this amount irrespective of their caste will not be allotted seats/vacancies from the reserved quota. On the face of it this step may seem difficult to implement but we need to understand that if this idea is communicated properly and in detail majority of people belonging to these very reserved castes and tribes will support it since we are not suggesting any changes in percentage levels to begin with. Also, people with higher income within any reserved category are quite likely to be much less than those below this limit. And therefore, the aim should be to mobilize support of these poor people to enable the govt to implement this ceiling.
Though this ceiling of Rs 2,50,000 is entirely debatable yet it must be appreciated that as we go higher in the economic hierarchy it is the poorest of the lot who’ll be left out of any gains that may accrue from this proposal. Also, whatever minimum amount is arrived at should then be linked to the inflation rate of the country.
Now consider this hypothetical example as to how this scheme can result in lowering of percentages at some point and finally even doing away with it entirely or bringing it down to absolutely minimal levels.
Let us say that there are a total of 1000 Gujjars in our country. After the exclusion of persons with family income of more than Rs 2,50,000 let us assume that we are left with 800 persons about whom we have no data. This percentage may well be less or more but we’ll have to wait for both these schemes to be completed to get more precise data. As you can see in the current scheme of things all these 1000 Gujjars are eligible for reservations whereas the deserving ones are those 800. Also, you can well imagine that with the kind of resources those 200 comparatively more affluent Gujjars have they’re more than likely to get better marks and fare better within the Gujjar community thereby cornering most of the reserved seats/vacancies leaving a majority of those 800 out in the cold. As things stand today the son of a dalit street vendor is considered at par with son of someone like say Ramvilas Paswan which is ridiculous, to say the least. I’ll even go to the extent of saying that competition for those reserved seats is only between those 200 Gujjars. Balance 800 never really have a chance. As you can see for yourself the reservation quota therefore hardly benefits those 800 poor Gujjars whom it is supposed to benefit in the first place. And therefore our present system will never ever uplift the poor. Period.
After the limit of Rs 2,50,000 has been implemented and the poorest of the lot have started reaping in the benefits, every year we’ll have Gujjars graduating from reserved category to open category. Let us say for the first year 15 of them do so. In the second year this number will increase to may be 20 or more because more and more colleges and universities are coming up every year. Please note that when one person moves into the open category it’s not just him who does so but his entire family which moves alongwith him.
After a decade or so when less than 50% of these people are left in the reserved category Gujjars in the open category will themselves demand that the percentage for their own community (and other such communities) be brought down so that more seats are available in open category. A call can then be taken on this issue after considering views of all stakeholders. All said and done, if not at 50% stage this percentage will have to be lowered at some point. And we’ll reach similar position for every reserved caste at some stage or the other though not at the same time. We may therefore have to wait for every caste to reach the ’satisfaction level’ of 50% (or whatever percentage is agreed upon) before we lower their percentages.
Slowly but steadily the reservation policy will eventually help in lowering these percentages to absolutely minimal levels where they’d stop being an issue in itself. It may take a decade or two for that to happen but I guess it’s still better than not doing anything about them at all and letting the status quo continue forever.
I’d also like to clarify that this proposal should not be extended to organizations where electoral procedures are involved like in municipal corporations, legislative assemblies and Lok Sabha since the purpose of reservations in such govt bodies is not financial emancipation of these candidates but that of financial emancipation of voters, majority of whom may belong to SC/STs in seats where such reservation exists. However, it is pertinent to point out that after this census we’ll also get a fair idea whether the number of seats reserved for SC/STs are in correct proportion to their population and also whether they’re in the correct places at all or not.
Apart from the issue of reservations linking the UID numbers with all financial transactions in the country has a plethora of advantages which can have immense influence on the economics of our nation as a whole. More about that at some other time. For now, I’d sign off by saying that my suggestions may seem arduous and may have a pretty long gestation period before we see tangible results but I assure you that results will surely come. Patience is the keyword here. Anyone having better ideas are more than welcome to say so.
What's your caste?