India attacked on plan to set aside places for poor

April 28, 2006

The Indian Government is facing protests over its plans to reserve per cent of all university places - including at the elite Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) - for students from socially "backward" classes.

The move would raise the total percentage of reserved places in government-funded universities to 49.5 per cent. There is already a 22.5 per cent quota for some lower Hindu castes and tribes.

The move, contained in a draft Bill to be submitted to Parliament next month, prompted accusations that the Government was politicising higher education to win the support of lower classes, who constitute a sizeable "vote bank".

Student groups threatened to take action, calling the proposal "regressive"

and an attack on meritocracy. A similar move in 1990 sparked widespread violence.

The IITs and Indian Institutes of Management fear that they might be forced to compromise on admission standards, which would affect their reputation.

Opinion polls show overwhelming public opposition to caste or class-based reservations. "Widening the reservation net is not the way to overcome social disparities," one academic said. "The fact that such disparities still exist after 60 years of quota systems in education and jobs shows that the policy is flawed.''

Arjun Singh, the Minister for Human Resources Development, has defended the move, saying it is constitutionally mandatory.

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