UGC draft guidelines for de-reservation: Were they mentioned in the original guidelines? 

MS Nethrapal, an IRS officer and author of The Pain of Merit: Realities of Reservation delves into the intricacies of the new de-reservation guidelines and why it caused outrage in academic circles
Read here | Credit: Edex Live
Read here | Credit: Edex Live

Today I am going to discuss a few flaws that I noticed in the recently proposed University Grants Commission (UGC) guidelines dated November 2023. There has been a lot of controversy around these guidelines in the last two days, especially over the de-reservation policies that have been proposed in these guidelines. 

Previous guidelines

First, I looked at what this guideline is replacing. The original guideline on the reservation policies in central universities was released by UGC in 2006. So, remember that it was released in 2006 and now, we are seeing this change which is being proposed in 2023.

I had a look at the 2006 guideline to check if de-reservation is mentioned in the original guidelines. Surprisingly, I noticed that there is nothing called de-reservation in that guideline. The de-reservation has been proposed freshly in this new guideline and it has never been there since 2006. 

What is de-reservation?

Now why is there so much opposition against de-reservation? What is this de-reservation? De-reservation is just the opposite of reservation. Reservation is like giving quota to Scheduled Caste (SC), Scheduled Tribe (ST), and Other Backward Classes (OBC) candidates while de-reservation is taking out the quota of SC, ST, OBCs. 

So, how can you do this? You can do this by converting these seats. SC, ST, OBC seats can be converted to General seats using the process of de-reservation.

When can it be done? It can be done especially when there are not enough eligible candidates from SC, ST and OBC categories. For example, it's a general practice in many universities, wherein, the candidates attend the interview but are found to be unsuitable for any positions and then, those seats become available for de-reservations.

I examined the office memorandums (OM) which have been released by DoPT (Department of Personnel and Training) and I found that there is a blanket ban on de-reservation even in the DoPT office memorandum proposal. Then how is this new guideline proposing something like this? I was puzzled.

What does this DOPT guideline say? The DOPT guidelines mentions that whenever a sufficient number of candidates belonging to SC, ST or OBC are not available to fill the vacancies reserved for them in direct recruitment, the vacancy shall not be filled by candidates not belonging to these communities. In other words, there is a ban on de-reservation of vacancies reserved for SC, ST, OBCs in direct recruitment.

In case the seats of SC, ST, OBCs are not filled during direct recruitment, they are going to be carried forward. Then, they are going to be called backlog vacancies which can be filled later on. If this is done, the percentage of reservation does not change substantially. So that was the idea. 

When can it be implemented?

The OM also says that in certain exceptional cases, especially in Group A services where you cannot leave the post vacant in the public interest, you can resort to de-reservation. But this de-reservation can be done only with the approval of the National SC/ST Commission and National OBC Commission.

So, a clear-cut procedure has been defined. It has to go to the National SC/ST Commission or National OBC Commission, go to the Ministry of Social Justice and then finally, it has to be placed in front of the concerned ministry for de-reservation. 

But what do the UGC guidelines say? The UGC guidelines say you can de-reserve just using the executive council of the universities and it also proposes that it can de-reserve Group C and Group D posts. 

Just with the approval of the liaison officer, de-reservation can be done and that is very dangerous because de-reservation is a very complex process and it can lead to a reduction in the number of seats. This is a very big concern because if you look at the central universities, the proportion of professors, associate professors, and assistant professors from the reserved communities has been marginal. 

Recently, a poignant thesis by Anupam Yadav estimated that only 20% of the seats were filled by the SC/ST/OBC candidates. The remaining seats were never filled. So that is the kind of gap we are talking about.

Then de-reserving with just the approval of the liaison officer without taking it to the National SC/ST Commission and the Ministry of Social Welfare is giving too much authority to the lower levels. 

I also had a look at one of the Supreme Court judgments (Mandeep Kumar versus Union Territory Chandigarh, Civil Appeal No. 1908 of 2022). It also says that whenever de-reservation has to be done, it has to be done with the approval of the Department of Social Welfare or the National SC/ST Commission.

Issue with recruitment in central universities

The problem here especially lies with the central universities because they follow a 13-point roster, As per this, it is only after 13.33 positions (14 in round figure) are filled that every reserved category gets at least one post. This has been a huge debate that 13-point rosters create a debacle for reservations. So I had written one article on this where I clearly mentioned that the 13-point roster reduces the reservation directly to 35% from 50%.

So now when de-reservation and the 13-point roster operate together then it can be very dangerous. Why is this so? For this, we have to see the 2003 OM para number 4 which clearly differentiates the carry forward of backlog vacancies in the case of 13-point roster and other rosters.

In the 13-point roster, you can carry it forward for a maximum of three years and after that, the backlog vacancies expire. But in the other type of rosters, it cannot expire, it continues forever. 

We all know that in central universities, especially now the cases are pending, Banaras University, and Allahabad University, we have seen that most of them follow 13-point rosters. So what it directly leads to is that the seats which are not filled, they expire and then they can be de-reserved. They get converted to General category posts.

This is where the problem of de-reservation comes in. This is where the 2006 circular clearly said that there was no policy of de-reservation at all.

Now I am very happy to see that the Ministry of Education has directly clarified that post-2019, this concept of de-reservation will not operate at all and I am happy that this issue is now settled and then this de-reservation issue will never crop up and throughout Indi,a we will not have any such cases of de-reservation.

(MS Nethrapal is an IRS officer and author of The Pain of Merit: Realities of Reservation. Views expressed in this column are his own)

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