Published: 21st June 2020
How red tape, apathy and law loopholes have deprived thousands of OBC candidates constitutionally mandated reservation in medical colleges
Several MPs, students, activists, welfare groups, faculty members have come out to demand the proper implementation of the OBC quota. But how was it overlooked for so long?
for so long?
According to the Mandal Commission, members of the 'Other Backward Castes' category constituted 52 percent of the country's population. In 2006, according to the National Sample Survey Organisation, OBCs constituted 41 percent of the population. The actual numbers are believed to be much larger, while the SC/ST population is said to be around 16.2 percent and 8.2 percent respectively. Despite this fact, in the 2017-2018 national intake only 1.7 percent of the MBBS seats were allotted to the OBCs. The following year, the numbers didn't change much. Only 66 out of 4061 seats were made available to OBC students under the All India Quota. Many activists have called this a ‘blatant social injustice’.
In a recent statement signed by over 1000 citizens in the country including several MPs, it has been estimated that the OBC community has been deprived of about 10,000 medical seats in the last three years. Today, several organisations, leaders and activists have come out to demand the constitutionally approved 27 percent reservation for OBCs in medical seats. But about a year ago, D Ravikumar and Thol Thirumaavalavan, MPs from Tamil Nadu were the one of the very few to raise the issue in Parliament and submit a letter about this issue to the Minister of Health and Family Welfare, Dr Harsh Vardhan. In late 2018, Ganesh Singh, MP and Chairma of OBC committee raised the matter and DMK's P Wilsom wrote letters in 2019, immediately after his nomination to the Rajya Sabha and Thamizhachi Thangapandian, MP and Jothimani, MP also raised concerns besides a few others.
"At that time, Harsh Vardhan said he can't do anything and that it was up to the government to take such decisions. We have been raising this issue for a long time now. This is a blatant injustice to the OBCs, there is simply no reason for them to deny these seats to the OBCs. We didn't have any other support so we could not do anything about it. But now, it's good that more people are coming out in support,” Ravikumar said.
VP Singh government tabled the Mandal Commission's recommendation for OBC reservations
The Constitution, as previously mentioned, mandates a reservation of 27 percent in all government institutions, seats and jobs. In 1954, the Ministry of Education suggested that 20 percent of places should be reserved for SCs and STs in educational institutions. In 1982, it was specified that 15 percent and 7.5 percent of vacancies in public and government-aided educational institutes would be reserved for SC and ST candidates respectively. In 1979, since the Mandal report determined that 52 percent of the population were members of the OBC category, the commission recommended a reserved quota of 27 percent. But it wasn’t until the 1990s came along that the VP Singh government implemented the recommendations in Union Government jobs.
However, it was only in the following decade that the Central Educational Institutions (Reservations in Admission) Act, 2006 was promulgated to provide for the reservation in admission for SC, ST and OBC students to certain Central educational institutions established, maintained or aided by the Central Government. The Act states that the reservation of seats in admission and its extent in a Central educational institution shall be provided in the following manner, namely — out of the annual permitted strength in each branch of study or faculty, fifteen per cent seats shall be reserved for the Scheduled Castes, seven and one-half per cent seats shall be reserved for the Scheduled Tribes and twenty-seven per cent of the seats shall be reserved for the Other Backward Classes.
Yet, these rules are not being implemented when it comes to medical seats, says the All India Federation of OBC Employees’ Association, General Secretary G Karunanidhy.
In 2017-2018, 65 seats were reserved for OBCs in MBBS and 9 seats in BDS courses. In comparison, 2660 seats were allotted in the open category for MBBS and 234 for the BDS course. For the SC students, 529 seats in MBBS and 45 seats for the BDS course, for ST students, 263 for MBBS and 23 for BDS. The numbers the following year were pretty much around the same. Similarly, 220 OBC candidates were admitted to PG courses when they had a claim over 2152 of the 7982 seats. Similarly, in 2018-2019, only 66 OBC students were admitted under All India Quota to the MBBS programme. There were 4,061 All India Quota MBBS seats, of which 27 per cent (1,096) should have been filled by OBC candidates.
The problem here is that the seats are only reserved in Central education institutions that are established or aided by the Central Government.
In order to understand how reservations in medical colleges work, we would have to look at how the All India Quota came to be. “All the states had their own system of admissions, but the government found that many students who aspired for MBBS seats were unable to get an opportunity because there were no medical colleges in their native places. So instead of putting in funds to establish medical colleges there, they decided that all institutions should contribute 15 percent of the seats to the ‘All India Quota’. These seats would be available to people from all across the country. It was only years later that people demanded that there should be reservations in the AIQ as well, as the marginalised were being left behind,” Karunanidhy explained.
Under the UPA government and the late DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi, it was mandated that reservations be given in the All India Quota as well. The oppressed communities had to wait at least two decades till 2006, for an Act like the Central Educational Institutions (Reservations in Admission) Act, 2006 to take shape. It was only in 2008, that the Act began to be implemented. “But all these years, we’ve never had the proper implementation of OBC reservation. It was only about three years ago that some young medical students and doctors got in touch with us after they saw the kind of work that they were doing. After that we went through some data and found that OBCs were being denied medical seats for a long time now,” Karunanidhy said.
“When the implementation of reservation didn’t happen as promised, SC, ST representatives approached the court and demanded reservation in the AIQ and the government at that point agreed to ensure proper implementation but somehow a similar case regarding OBC reservation remained stagnant in court. We can’t expect anything too soon from the court as well, as most of these cases take 6-7 years to reach a final judgement, at least that is what happened with similar cases,” Karunanidhy pointed out.
So, currently, the OBC students are only being given reservation in Central Institutions - while SC, ST candidates are getting allotted seats in the seats pooled in by the State-funded institutions as well. According to the General Secretary, in the last eight years, 72,491 seats were pooled in by the states to the All India Quota. “But zero seats were reserved for the OBC candidates. Of course, there will be OBC students who get placed through the general category seats but that doesn’t mean the OBC candidates will be guaranteed a seat,” he said.
The DMK is one of the major parties to demand OBC reservation
The website only gives the data up till 2013, so before that there is no way to know how many seats were lost, he added. “The further we go back, obviously the number of seats will get fewer because every year, more seats and medical colleges are added. But the point is that the students were denied their right to a medical education, they were unable to avail a right that they are constitutionally guaranteed,” Karunanidhi said. This year, out of the 9550 seats under the All India Quota, nearly 8800 are pooled in by the colleges run by the state governments.
"Had the seats remained in the States, the OBCs would have benefitted in a large way. For example, this year, Tamil Nadu has 1758 seats under PG course. Out of this, 879 seats are pooled by the Medical Counselling Committee (MCC) for All India Quota," he explained. "Of these 879 seats, the OBCs are not getting any reservation. Had the seats remained in the Tamil Nadu, as per their reservation policy, 440 seats would have gone to OBC students. The same applies to all the states," Karunanidhy had said in a previous statement. The activist believes that 30,000 OBC candidates have missed out on a medical seat in the last five years.
Post NEET, Tamil Nadu has been on the losing side, Karunanidhy pointed out, “The uniqueness of Tamil Nadu is that with the reservation policies here, many local candidates find a spot and a lot of them come from difficult backgrounds. The great thing is that after they finish, these students go back to their own villages and hometowns and practice there. But now with so many seats being pooled into the AIQ, these seats are going to students who are not from here. And when they finish their courses, they are going to go back to their home states. So who will go to our villages?” In doing so, he echoes a sentiment felt by several activists and students across the state.
Last month, the DMK approached the Supreme Court over the Centre's refusal to implement 50 percent OBC reservation in the state-surrendered medical seats to the AIQ — which the SC has now directed them to take up with the Madras High Court. The State’s policy mandates 50 percent reservation for OBC and is demanding that the same be followed in the AIQ too. “The net result is that all states are losing OBC reservations in the seats surrendered by them to the All India Quota to the detriment of their MBC, OBC students. This has led to a huge loss to the students in the OBC categories," their petition stated. The DMK demanded that if the Central Act provides for 27 percent reservation for OBC students only in Central government institutions, then the state reservation of 50 percent for OBC must also be applied to the State surrendered seats in the All India Quota in non-Central institutions, viz. State Government colleges and private colleges) to avoid any discrimination. "In Tamil Nadu, the total number of State-surrendered seats to All India quota is 866. As such, we believe that OBC students from Tamil Nadu are entitled to 50 percent reservation in these seats,” the DMK said.
The petition also asserts that only one OBC candidate from Tamil Nadu was given a seat in a central government institution in Tamil Nadu. The DMK added a few more figures to substantiate their claim in the documents filed in court, “This year also more than 425 MBC, OBC students have lost the opportunity in joining PG courses in Medical Colleges in Tamil Nadu. Likewise, in undergraduate and diploma medical courses admissions, out of the more than 795 surrendered seats to All India Quota from State of Tamil Nadu, more than 395 MBC, OBC students have lost the opportunity of entering the course, as 50 percent reservation was not implemented in All India Quota seats in non-Central government medical colleges seats (government medical colleges and private medical colleges).”
A protest demanding reservation
“Just like how the Ministry came forward to implement the SC, ST reservation, they have to volunteer to take a decision in this case too. They cannot keep giving us excuses — either they say the case is pending so they can’t take a decision or they simply state that the Act only covers Central Institutions and diverts the attention from the demand to implement the quota in seats pooled in by the states,” Karunanidhy opines. It is appalling that Economically Weaker Section (EWS) was allotted 653 seats in the PG course in the All India Quota and the OBC community was only given 371 seats, he added. The signatories of the recent statement also pointed out the irony in the fact that the government had managed to create more seats when the EWS quota was announced but had failed to do the same when it came to OBCs, despite them facing systemic oppression for centuries. "After the reservation for Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) came into force in 2019, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare had promptly increased 5,200 MBBS seats for the academic year 2019-20 to accommodate the new category. The ministry needs to show the same promptness towards OBC reservation," they had argued.
Ravikumar who was also one of the signatories also pointed out the same, “They created new categories and more beneficiaries but then how have they managed to ignore those who have faced discrimination and social injustices in the past. Where are their seats?” Ravikumar asks. He feels that there is some hope of the Central government taking note of their voices, “The only way that the government will take action if there is political pressure and it looks like we’ll be able to sustain that pressure for a bit. So let’s hope they take cognisance of this injustice because this simply can’t continue.”
But more has to be done. “The ministry should also compensate for all the seats the OBCs have lost so far by allocating extra seats to OBCs in the upcoming round," the petition by citizens had demanded. However, the problem with OBC reservations doesn’t seem to end with medical colleges, according to Karunanidhy, there are many Arts and Science Universities that have also gotten away with violating the rules of reservation, “I’m trying to do some research and get some statistics out from there as well. We have to address the issue as soon as possible. This has gone on far too long and we’ve stayed silent for far too long,” he says.
The Centre last week conveyed to the Madras High Court that it is in favour of providing state-specific reservations to OBCs in the seats contributed to AIQ in non-Central institutions. So hopefully, justice for the members of OBC is not too far.