Choosy reservation

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A Shed where a family in Backward area lives Photo: Bilal Bahadur

A constitutional measure to improve the status of underprivileged classes – reservation in jobs and education – is proving a lopsided measure. Many deserving areas have been left out while many in the list have long acquired facilities available to advanced areas, Hamidullah Dar reports.

It appears that Jammu and Kashmir is taking reverse steps on the developmental path. More and more people are demanding backward status for their areas.  Granting a Resident of Backward Area (RBA) or other reserved categories status is a measure aimed to bring underprivileged sections of the society at par with advanced categories.

But the ‘benign discrimination’ has of late been misused or moulded to suit vested interests, as the implementation of the reservation policy has been extended to areas that enjoy educational and other facilities at par with people of advanced categories. As a result, the state has been consigned to the hands of an army of incompetent officers, undeserving doctors, and unqualified engineers.

The categorisation is in many ways lopsided. At the State Commission for Backward Classes (SCBC), representations are flooding for declaring different areas as backward.

“When villages and habitations with all necessary educational facilities and high social status are relishing the fruits of undeserving privileges, why can’t we apply for the same as we are the deserving ones,” said one Mohammad Amin Bhat of Laisoo, Kulgam coming out of SCBC office at Gagribal Srinagar. “We do not have road connectivity with the rest of the world, no middle school and ours is an area sitting far away in the lap of Pir Panjal range. The literacy rate is about five percent and the number of government employees is just five or six out of a total population of 2000,” explains Bhat to lend credence to his demand.

Laisoo is a village of Damhal Hanjipora Tehsil, and not listed backward while the Tehsil headquarter – having a higher secondary school (land has been acquired for the construction of degree college and work may start soon), hospital, Bus stand and above all a town with adequate facilities – is in the RBA list.

“We cannot do anything on our own. According to the rules, Damhal Hanjipora does not qualify for RBA status. However, there has not been the revision of the list for the last 14 years. So some undeserving areas are there in the list,” says Justice (retd) Brij Lal Bhat, Chairman SCBC.

Sakeena Itoo

Minister of Social Welfare Sakeena Itoo, who represents Damhal Hanjipora constituency in the assembly, defends RBA status to the area. “Everybody is after Damhal Hanji Pora. It is a poor area lacking facilities like college. It deserves the status,” said Itoo. When asked whether the status was in tune with the rules and regulations to have a Tehsil headquarter with RBA status, she blurts out, “If Gurez can be a backward area despite being tehsil headquarter, why not Damhal Hanjipora.”

Damhal Hanjipora is not the only tehsil headquarter categorised as ‘backward’, Banihal also enjoys the distinction. “Banihal also stands scornfully laughing at the reservation policy of the state. Bisected by Srinagar-Jammu highway, this tehsil headquarter till now enjoys RBA status while as those people putting up on the mountain tops and hilly terrain with no connectivity except one-foot broad several kilometres long serpentine walk-ways winding around precipitous terrain, are accorded status of advanced categories,” says a government employee from Nowgam Banihal, wishing anonymity.

In order to include and exclude the areas and categories from the list of reserved categories, J&K State Commission for Backward Classes came into being in 1997 by an act with effect from May 24, 1995.

Section 11 of J&K State Commission for Backward Classes Act 1997 is mandatory in character. It casts a duty upon the government to revise a list contemplated under Section 2(d) of the Act after expiration of ten years from coming into force of this Act and every succeeding period of 10 years thereafter. The objective is to exclude from such lists those classes who have ceased to be backward or for including in such lists new backward classes.

“Upto March, 2009 there were 1755 representations pertaining to grant of RBA or reserved categories status pending with the Commission. Out of it, 1154 are from Kashmir and 601 from Jammu division,” informs Justice Bhat.

During 2008-09, out of 100 cases, 66 were forwarded for reserved categories status and 34 were rejected by the Commission. If this ratio is applied in all the representations, almost 80 percent of the state officially will be either backward or inhabited by people with reserved categories status which ultimately can shrink the share of advanced categories in employment opportunities to very little.

“When merit is killed, corruption flourishes. In our state, people with lesser qualifications are preferred over meritorious ones only because of discriminating reservation system. You see every department is in shambles because the majority of the officials, in reality, are undeserving ones,” said a top bureaucrat pleading anonymity.

The benefits of the special status should not be everlasting as envisaged by Supreme Court of India. Constitutional Bench of Supreme Court delivered its historical judgment on November 16, 1992, in a case titled as Indra Sawhney & Others V/S Union of India. In the said landmark judgment, Supreme Court held that “Reservation is not an end in itself. It is a means to achieve equality… There will be no need for reservation or preferential treatment once equality is achieved… Every reservation founded on benign discrimination and justifiably adopted to achieve the constitutional mandate of equality must necessarily be a transient passage to that end. It is temporary in concept, limited in duration, conditional in the application and specific in object.”

In J&K, politicians and bureaucrats seem to be keeping the reservation policy going on. And therefore, the number of areas declared backward is increasing. For the last 14 years, there has been no exclusion of any area from RBA list.

In 2004, the government came up with Jammu and Kashmir Reservation Act. This Act  besides other things says that children of any person whose annual income from all sources, determined in the prescribed manner, exceeds Rs Three lacs or such amount as may be notified by the government from time to time in accordance with the prescribed norms, shall be excluded from the category of socially and educationally backward classes.

However, on February 28, 2009, J&K Reservation (Amendment) Bill 2009 was introduced in state Legislative Assembly seeking to amend J&K Reservation Act 2004 proposing among other things that “The income ceiling shall not apply to a person who has lived and completed entire school education from an area identified as Backward or Actual Line of Control, as the case may be, and in case such schooling is not available in such area, from the nearest adjoining area.”

“Those who get benefited from the reserved category fled to cities and towns and defeat the very purpose of benign social categorisation. Mostly, it is rich people who avail of the category certificates as the toiling lot remains under the layers of abysmal destitute,” complains Imran Showkat, a student of Degree College Islamabad. “Hardly a few hundred yards from our village is Kamad hamlet where there are more than a hundred doctors, an equal number of engineers and hundreds of other government employees. But, still the village is Backward,” he adds, his face grinning with scorn.

Every government claims and statistics reveal that there has been a steady improvement in social and educational sectors during the past sixty years. In the health sector, the number of health institutions has risen from 124 in 1951-52 to 3998 as on March 2006. Similarly, Rs 11.52 crores were allocated for health sector in Ist five year plan which has shot up to Rs 25834 crores in 11th plan. On educational side also, J&K has one of the highest Pupil-Teacher ratio in India. Pupil-Teacher Ratio in 2004-05 for the primary class was 1:34, and for middle class 1:16 as against 1:46 and 1:35 at All India level.

Unlike the development indicators, more and more people are approaching Commission to declare them socially and educationally backward.

“People throughout the world long and struggle for advancement while as the everse is the trend in J&K. The politicians supported by bureaucrats have devised a set up here that inculcates concept of reverse development. Instead of seeking educational, economic and social advancement, people are lured to demand reservation to gain riches without really deserving it,” says Mushtaq Ahmad, a college lecturer from Uri.

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