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Face The Nation: Reservation row

Is it time that India holds a referendum on reservations? That question has become relevant after the Supreme Court’s stay on 27 per cent reservation for Other Backward Classes (OBCs) in government-funded educational institutions.

The anti- and pro-quota camps are sharply divided and there seems no middle ground on the issue. Would a referendum settle the controversy?

CNN-IBN’s Sagarika Ghose asked this on Face The Nation to a panel comprising former prime minister V P Singh, who was the first to suggest a referendum after the court verdict, senior Supreme Court lawyer Harish Salve, Anirudh Lochan, spokesperson for anti-quota group Youth For Equality, and Congress MP V Hanumantha Rao.

Court and legislature

Singh, as prime minister, faced nationwide protests when he proposed to implement the Mandal Commission’s suggestions. The Supreme Court had then upheld the commission’s suggestions and Singh believes the court should have done the same now.

“Parliament represents the people and very rarely does it passes a unanimous judgment, which I think should be respected by the Supreme Court,” said Singh.

Singh said the quota must not be delayed, because the government had no clear data on who form the OBCs.

“The judges of the Supreme Court approved the Mandal Commission. They did not turn down reservation on the basis of data. So let the previous Supreme Court judgment prevail till the next census.”

But is this again a case of judiciary versus legislature? Salve said the court stay on OBC reservation is being misunderstood—the court has put a stay, not banned the government’s decision.

Only hard data can prove if reservations can be justified and the court has demanded that. It has not ruled whether reservations are fair or not, Salve said.

Referendum solution?
Lochan believed that a referendum might be a “blessing in disguise”, as it would settle who must get quota. A referendum would also prevent a row between the judiciary and the legislature on the issue.
“People have remained backward even after reservations were passed. The calling for referendum might be a blessing in disguise. Reservation has failed the country as far as the upliftment of the OBCs are concerned,” said Lochan.

But would a referendum decide who deserves reservation more—a poor Brahmin or a rich OBC? Would it settle who decides—legislature or the judiciary—whether the country needs reservations or not?

Salve was not sure. “If anything done by Parliament violates the fundamental rights then the Supreme Court must have the last word,” he said.

Singh again said there was no legislature-judiciary confrontation here, as the Supreme Court already has settled the creamy layer issue and ruled that people who are economically strong cannot get quota benefits.

Lochan believed reservations are mistaken to be empowerment and there should be more schools and colleges not quotas. A referendum might help in deciding on whether quotas are needed and who must get the benefit.

Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes were given reservations because the society shunned them and a group’s economic status cannot be the lone criteria on deciding quota, said Salve.

“In some villages there are a lot of down trodden people like the SCs or the STs so reservations should not be given on the basis of caste but the economic condition,” said Hanumantha Rao.

Final SMS polls results: Is it time for a referendum on reservations in India?

Yes- 70 per cent

No- 30 per cent