The Supreme Court’s verdict upholding the department-wise reservation roster system, also known as the 13-point roster system, has left many students and academics disappointed. Under-privileged groups see it as diluting the principles of reservation in faculty recruitment to colleges and universities.
Under the new roster system, a university department is considered as a ‘unit’ for implementing reservation – as opposed to the whole university being a unit under the previous 200-point roster system.
Under the new system, if a department has 13 vacancies, the first, second and third seat are unreserved, the fourth seat goes to the OBC category – and in this manner, the seventh seat is for scheduled castes, the eighth and twelfth for OBCs again, and the fourteenth for scheduled tribes.
In other words, a department needs to recruit at least four people for an OBC candidate to access a reserved faculty position, at least seven for an SC candidate and at least 14 people for a Scheduled Tribe candidate.
If a department has only three vacancies, no reservation will be implemented. In higher education institutions, the vacancies for faculty recruitment are limited – so faculty reservations are very likely to be diluted.
Yet all the commentary on this issue makes no mention of its effect on persons with disabilities. In the debate of 13-point roster system, they are not even in the picture.
This is not surprising – our society suffers from an ‘ableist’ mindset, so neither caste groups nor political parties will blink an eye about the disappearance of disability reservations, even though India has at least 40 million persons with disabilities, according to a 2007 World Bank report.
Under the Rights to Persons with Disabilities (RPwD) Act, 2016, differently abled candidates are provided 4% reservation in government jobs. Every government establishment is duty-bound to maintain a 100-point vacancy-based reservation roster.
Under this roster system, the first, 26th, 51st and 76th seats are reserved for Persons with Disabilities. If a department has only one vacancy, that seat must go to person with disability. But that never happens. Recruitment boards and interview panels discard candidates using the usual phrase, ‘Not Found Suitable’. So even under old roster system, the implementation of disability reservation was very poor.
This means that the challenges SC, ST, OBC groups will face now, under the new roster system, are ones that differently abled people have already faced under the old roster system.
Unlike SC, ST and OBC reservation – called “vertical reservation” – the disability reservation is “horizontal reservation”, because a person with disability can come from any caste group. Horizontal cuts across vertical reservation, in what is called interlocking reservation. If, in a given year, there are two vacancies disabled faculty, and one appointee is from a scheduled caste and the other unreserved, then each is adjusted against the appropriate ‘vertical reservation’ roster.
Even under the old roster system, which marginalised groups want brought back, disability reservations were appallingly implemented. So the new 13-point roster brings many difficult questions to the table. Is disability reservation simply a thing of past in faculty recruitment?
One hopes not. The able-bodied mindset may see ‘disability’ as ‘inability’. But we cannot treat disability reservation like charity, rather than what it is: a right of the differently-abled.
Martand Jha is a freelance writer based in New Delhi.