Interrogating the false merit-reservation binary
- The Supreme Court’s recent All India Quota ruling deserves closer attention for a reason other than its impact on post-graduate medical admissions.
- The ruling has the potential to settle a long, fractious and futile debate in our country: merit versus reservations.
About the Case
- The case's limited aim is to resolve the difficulties surrounding the implementation of OBC and EWS All India quotas in NEET admissions to medical institutions as quickly as possible.
- AIQ: Judicially established category in which 15% of undergraduate seats and 50% of postgraduate seats are filled on a domicile-free, all-India basis.
- Within this AIQ category, Government plans to include OBC reservations by expanding the existing SC & ST reservations. well.
- The implementation of OBC reservation will damage professional merit causing reverse discrimination against general category candidates.
- The Court took this opportunity to directly address the issue of merit versus reservations at some length.
- Context: Critics of affirmative action have claimed that reservations are a violation of merit.
Crux of the Judgement
- It starts with the idea of substantive equality, rather than legal equality underpinning our constitutional guarantee of equal opportunity.
- The Court reminded that the founders' objective was to remove genuine structural hurdles that prohibited equality of opportunity from being realized.
- The Court emphasized that the reservation provision in Article 16(4) is not an exception an extension of, the equality principle enunciated in Article 16(1).
The Arguments Put forward
- Reservations are crucial to achieving the aspirational goal of genuine equality of opportunity and status amongst all citizens.
- Stereotypes and skills: It exposes social prejudices that cover up as concerns about ‘efficiency of administration’ and the anxieties about the dilution of merit.
- On Examinations and merit: It cites A study highlighting a stark separation between what examinations claim to measure, and what they actually do.
Importance of the Judgement
- The Claims of reverse discrimination by candidates from the unreserved category would have to be justified under the paradigm of substantive equality.
- The judgment opens the way for designing examinations that are free of linguistic, class, school boards, and regional bias.