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Teachers' reservation Bill of 2019: Paving the way for social justice

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Teachers' reservation Bill of 2019: Paving the way for social justice

The Bill not only seeks to ensure better representation of teachers from the SC, ST and OBC categories in higher education, it also paves the way, for the first time, for a 10 per cent representation to the economically poor from the general category.

The Central Educational Institutions (Reservation in Teachers' Cadre) Bill of 2019, which was passed by the Parliament earlier in the week, replaces an ordinance of March 2019 proposing to make the central educational institution to be considered as a unit for fixing quota for the reserved categories of teachers, instead of individual department, for their better representation.

The Bill reverses the Allahabad High Court order of 2017, which was also upheld by the Supreme Court in 2018, directing the Banaras Hindu University (BHU) to consider individual department as a unit for calculating the number of teaching posts to be reserved for the Scheduled Castes (SCs), Scheduled Tribes (STs) and Socially and Educationally Backward classes (SEBs).

In addition, the Bill also provides for a 10 per cent reservation for the economically weaker among the higher castes, something that was missing in the March 2019 ordinance. The government claims the Bill would help in filling more than 7,000 vacancies through direct recruitment.

What the Bill says

The Bill says that for the purpose of determining the number of teaching posts to be reserved for different categories, a central educational institution will be regarded as one unit. A central educational institution is one which is established, maintained or aided by the central government, like the BHU.
The Bill's provisions are not applicable to the institutions of excellence, research institutions, institutions of national and strategic importance (eight in number) mentioned in the Schedule to the Bill and to the minority educational institutions.

While this addresses concerns arising out of the Allahabad High Court order regarding the representation guaranteed by the Constitution for the reserved categories, the Bill goes a step further to provides for a 10 per cent additional reservation for the economically weaker (EWS) sections in the general category teachers.

The government declared that it has already sanctioned Rs 717.83 crore for 2019-20 and 2020-21 for creation of additional faculty positions in the central educational institutions.

How department as a unit hurts representation

For long, teachers belonging to the reserved categories, particularly the SCs and STs, have been complaining about their inadequate representation in higher educational institutions.

Justifiably so as the All India Survey for Higher Education (AISHE) for 2017-18, released by the Ministry of Human Resource Development (HRD), showed that the teachers belonging to the general category cornered more than half, 56.8 per cent, of the total teachers in India (12,84,755). The SCs and STs had a mere 8.6 per cent and 2.27 per cent share, respectively. The OBCs, however, accounted for a higher share - 32.3 per cent.

It has also been seen that counting a department as one unit for reserving posts drastically cuts down the scope for reservation because of the limited number of posts (in each category of assistant professor, associate professor or professor) available to any department, as compared with university or college as a whole.

That is because of the formula being followed in filling up reserved posts - 15 per cent seats for the SCs, 7.5 per cent for the STs and 27 per cent for the OBCs. According to Prof Rajib Ray, president of the Delhi University Teachers' Association (DUTA), if there is one post of professor in a department, for example, there can't be any reservation as it would tantamount to a 100 per cent reservation.

He explains that to fill one SC seat, it would require at least seven posts in each category of teachers (assistant professor, associate professor, etc.) in a department. For, if there are only six posts and one of it goes to SC candidate, the reservation for the SCs goes up to 16.6 per cent - higher than the mandated 15 per cent. Therefore, an SC candidate gets in only when 7th position comes up. Similarly, an ST gets in when 14th position is available (7.5 per cent) and an OBC when 4th position (27 per cent).

In the case of the BHU, the central government had, in its petition challenging the Allahabad High Court order, shown how considering the department as a unit would bring down the reserved posts. The presentation showed, posts for the SCs would come down by more than half (from 289 to 119), for STs by 80 per cent (from 143 to 29) and for OBC by 29 per cent (from 310 to 220).

Allahabad High Court mandate

Without going into such considerations the Allahabad High Court ordered that a department be considered as the unit and made two important arguments to support it.

One, even though the posts of each category of teachers (assistant or associate professors etc.) in different departments are placed in the same pay-scale, their services are neither transferable nor they are in competition with each other. It is for this reason that "clubbing of the posts for the same level treating the university as a unit would be completely unworkable and impractical". Also, it would violate Article 14 (equality before law) and Article 16 (equality of opportunity in public employment) of the Constitution.

Secondly, that "if the university is taken as a unit for every level of teaching and applying the roaster it could result into some departments/subjects having all reserved candidates and some having only unreserved candidates. Such a proposition again would be discriminatory and unreasonable".

After the Supreme Court rejected the government's petition challenging it, the University Grant Commission (UGC) - the apex statutory body for determining and maintaining standards of higher education in India - issued a notification mandating the court formula.

A prolonged country-wide protest that followed forced the government to withdraw the UGC's notification and promulgation of the March 2019 ordinance, reversing the court order. The ordinance has now been replaced with the Bill.

A balancing act

While mindful of the protests from the reserved categories, the government took care to keep the upper castes in good humour by adding the 10 per cent reservation for the economically weaker sections (EWS) among them, which it had brought in through constitutional amendment in January 2019.

The Bill has come as a big relief for the academics and others fighting for better representation to the reserved category teachers in higher education.

Prof Ray, who had led the year-long protests by the DUTA, said his organisation was proud of taking a progressive position and getting the central government to do what it has done now. He claimed the court order had led to a drastic reduction in representation of the SCs, STs and OBCs in teaching posts across the country.