Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The Merit of Reservations

Is there a merit in reservation?

In fact, as many comments on the previous posts allege, the benefits of reservations are supposed to have been cornered by the "creamy layer" or by those who don’t actually fit into the criteria of being "backward".

On the other hand, a nation cannot develop on a sustainable basis, unless certain radical reforms are implemented to tackle the issues of social disparity and unequal opportunities...

The arguments on both side (pro- and anti-reservations), however, are largely based on ideological and/or anecdotal evidence.

My own mental analogy has been like this: if you spray fertilizer in a field - real life not being 100% perfect - it will not only help some plants to grow and bloom, but will also kill some plants due to overdose, and it will also often facilitate the growth of the weeds for whom it was not meant...

But the effectiveness of the fertilizer is if the aggregate productivity of the field increases.

And so, in this current debate about the reservations, one of question begs the answer:

Is there any empirical evidence to show that quota has really helped?... And if they have not done so far in last 60 years, how can one be sure that they will do so now?

The Southern Four states (Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and Andhra) have had 50% or more reservations in higher and profession education for many decades - even before the Mandal Commission in late 70s.

If the distributive justice that the reservations aimed at really worked, then there should be some aggregate positive differences between the Southern and the Northern states.

In one of the earlier postings (pt.10), I had quoted how in Tamil Nadu (which has had 69% reservations since 1960s), in 2004, students belonging to the Backward Class (BC) or Most Backward Classes (MBC) quailified for 952 of the total 1,224 seats in 12 government medical colleges in the State (77.9 per cent), and the first first 14 ranks in the medical admissions went to BC/MBC students.

But, as one would point out, getting into a medical college through reservation, is very different than becoming a good doctor (or as someone cruelly commented: "would you leave your life in the hands of a SC/ST/OBC doctor who got into the profession through reservations?")

Following this line of enquiry, I stumbled upon this report on The Merits of Reservations. It is based on the data from the Planning Commission's National Human Development Report 2001:

As the table below shows, apparently, at an aggregate societal level, reservations in healthcare education have had a positive impact on the society:

  • Merits of Reservation
  • Planning Commission's National Human Development Report, 2001
  • Southern Solitude
  • Reservations/Quota and the Meaning of "Merit"

  • 1 comment:

    yasak said...

    Well, correlation does not mean causation. There could be other factors that may have lead to the difference between the southern states and northern states. It would also be interesting to compare North Vs South after removing the BIMARU states.

    You may have noticed that the anecdotal evidence that people talked about was from the South. I can tell you from my personal experience in Andhra. All anecdotal evidence points to the fact that the creamy layer has captured the benefits from quotas. And as you pointed out, it would be great to see some hard evidence for or against this point.

    Take a typical example of a person who benefits from reservations. His father would have benefited from a past quota in getting a college degree, in getting a job and in getting promotions after that. He belongs to a family that is well off socio-economically. His siblings also do well and get into professional colleges. He has good role models. It is not like he faces discrimination due to his caste among the people that he interacts with. (People would know about his caste only because of the quota system, unlike the US where a skin color can be easily used to categorize people). How can someone from a family which does not provide such advantages (and possible faces caste based discrimiation) ever compete against this proto-typical person? I doubt if quotas in any form can ever pull up a backward community; I am sure that the curret system will definitely not be able to do that.

    And by the way, what is the big deal about using economic status while providing reservations? The fertilizer analogy is inapt here. A salary statement/ tax return can be used easily to provide selective benefits.