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Affirmative action, not reservation: Experts

Saturday, 20 May 2006 - 12:34am IST

Affirmative action, not reservation, is the need of the hour, say education policy makers.

NEW DELHI: Affirmative action, not reservation, is the need of the hour, say education policy makers. Think-tanks have come out against the quota policy, asserting that the government should find more practical solutions to the problem of social justice in India.

Dr PM Bhargava, vice chairman of the National Knowledge Commission, points out that when reservation was made for SC/ST after Independence, the plan was to taper it off. "At that time, government schools were the best schools. The plan was that in ten years we will have enough government schools, and there would be no need for reservation. However, corruption led to a situation where the standards of government schools deteriorated," Bhargava said.

Incidentally, Bhargava and his colleague Dr Jayati Ghosh opposed the anti-reservation stand of the Knowledge Commission. Yet, he wants the Prime Minister to take affirmative action for social justice rather than reservation.

Affirmative action means preference, for instance, to females over males when both are equally qualified. It is routinely mentioned in US employment ads, says Bhanoji Rao, who has worked with the World Bank, and is currently Professor Emeritus in GITAM Institute of Foreign Trade, Visakhapatnam.

Rao feels affirmative action addresses the problem of correcting an imbalance, without sacrificing merit. "Reservation implies a discount on merit, since it becomes mandatory to fill posts with less qualified persons or else keeping posts unfilled for years on."

According to economist A. K. Shiva Kumar, reservation is a subset of affirmative action. Kumar is adviser to UNICEF in India and a member of the National Advisory Council.

"We need to have a combination of both. India is failing by just pushing for reservation instead of pressing for access to education," Kumar said.

According to Bhargava, affirmative action has to be voluntary. But first the government should work towards a situation where there would be no need for reservation. "We need 400,000 good government high schools which are of the standard of Kendriya Vidyalayas. We can do that in ten years with a higher share of GDP on education."

He says the schools should be run by local governments like village panchayats as in the US and France.

He feels in the long run giving fellowships and helping the underprivileged increase their skills to communicate is the practical and more affirmative action.

"The best course of action is to first agree on an irrevocable date - say 2020 -- for ending all reservations, and then move on to affirmative action," said Bhanoji Rao.

"We should have the best infrastructure in government schools and the best pay for government teachers. That is affirmative action. Once these are provided, we should no longer allow for less qualifying marks for any community," Rao added. He says access to quality education should be the priority, pointing out that Delhi with a population of 14 million has just four good institutions for graduation, while Orissa and Bihar having a population of 70 million - equivalent to a country in Europe - have no academic research institute of national repute.

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