A wrong undone

Print edition : September 15, 2001

The AIADMK government decides to restore a Government Order that was withdrawn by the DMK government for filling up vacancies reserved for Dalits.

TAMIL NADU can legitimately take pride in the fact that it pioneered a system of reservation in government services, which provided for representation for different communities on the basis of their share in the population. The first "communal G.O." (1921) issued by the then provincial government made this possible, but in implementing reservation the State's record has been far from satisfactory.

Dalit organisations complain that representation for Dalits has always been far below the statutory 19 per cent reserved for Scheduled Castes (Dalits) and Scheduled Tribes, particularly in Group 1 and Group 2 services (Frontline, November 26, 1999.) They blame the lack of political will and the vested interests in the bureaucracy for denying Dalits their due. Filling vacancies through temporary appointment, transfers and deputation were among the methods used, they claimed.

In 1998, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam government issued a Government Order (G.O. Ms. 44) to clear the backlog of unfilled vacancies reserved for Dalits through direct recruitment, but withdrew it two years later even before any action could be taken on it. On September 7 the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) government announced its decision to "restore" the G.O. much to the relief of Dalit organisations. The G.O. 44, dated May 20, 1998, was based on certain directions of the Supreme Court in the 1992 Indra Sawhney and others vs. Union of India and others case (known as 'the Mandal Commission case').

According to the G.O., the court gave the following directions: "The adequacy of representation is not to be determined merely on the basis of the overall numerical strength of the backward classes in the services.... their representation at different levels of administration and in different grades has to be taken into consideration...

"To ensure adequate representation of backward classes... the rules of recruitment must ensure that there is direct recruitment at all levels and in all grades in the services."

The G.O. stated that the government had decided to provide for recruitment in each category/group, namely, Group 1, Group 2, Group 3 and Group 4, where representation of S.Cs/S.Ts was less than 19 per cent. The direct recruitment in each group would be at the lowest levels of the groups, it said.

IN September 1997 the DMK government had constituted a high-level committee to monitor the implementation of the 19 per cent reservation for S.Cs and S.Ts in government services and find ways to fill the vacancies within a stipulated period. Although the 12-member committee, headed by Minister for Adi Dravidar (Dalits) and Tribal Welfare Samayanallur S. Selvarasu, submitted its report in August 1998, the government did not publish it.

The committee, which had to make do with information provided by only 105 of the 141 departments, found that the representation for Dalits in administration was far less than the stipulated 19 per cent, particularly in the top posts. The departments relating to elementary education, collegiate education and local bodies, which account for over one lakh posts, did not provide any data. The committee suggested that the backlog could be cleared by direct recruitment and promotions. Subsequently, the DMK government appointed another committee to study the status of reservation among the backward classes.

Later, on May 11, 2000, the government came out with a White Paper on Reservation in Government Employment for Adi Dravidars (S.Cs), Scheduled Tribes (S.Ts), Backward Classes (B.Cs), Most Backward Classes (MBCs) and Denotified Communities. The paper revealed that there was no backlog in the case of B.Cs. As for the MBCs/Denotified Communities, the S.Cs and the S.Ts, the backlog posts in the groups numbered 5,263, 4,907 and 1,094 respectively. The paper showed that in the 4,588 top posts of 96 departments studied, while the B.Cs were over-represented (2,571 against 1,376), the Dalits (475 against 826), the S.Ts (17 against 45) and the MBCs/Denotified Communities (384 against 912) were grossly under-represented.

Dalit leaders challenged the estimates and called it a "black paper". In the Assembly on September 7, CPI(M) member S.K. Mahendran, while welcoming the decision to restore G.O. 44, demanded a new White Paper.

Incidentally, G.O. 44 did not find a mention in the White Paper and on July 20, 2000, it was made inoperative by means of a letter from the Secretary of the Department of Adi Dravidar and Tribal Welfare addressed to all departments. Dalit organisations and political parties such as the AIADMK, the Tamil Maanila Congress, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), Puthiya Tamilagam and Viduthalai Siruthaigal protested against the government action. AIADMK general secretary Jayalalithaa criticised the suspension of the G.O. which was intended to "rectify anomalies" in filling up reserved vacancies in government departments and public sector undertakings. "Suspending the operation of the provisions of a G.O. through an inter-departmental letter is contrary to law," she said, and added: "The fact that the G.O. in question was based on a Supreme Court directive makes its suspension contempt of the apex court."

Karunanidhi defended the government's action in rendering the order inoperative and said it was well within the law. Subsequently, the government issued an order with a view to helping Dalits get the "full benefits" of reservation. (G.O. 33 issued on May 8, 2000 - three days before the White Paper was placed in the Assembly - fixed April 1, 1989 as the cut-off date to calculate the unfilled vacancies reserved for S.Cs/S.Ts. Dalit organisations, however, continued to protest against the withdrawal of G.O. 44. In order to assuage Dalits' misgivings, on the eve of the Assembly elections Karunanidhi appointed a committee headed by Justice K. Swamidurai to go into the issue. The committee could not complete its work.

In its manifesto for the May Assembly elections the AIADMK promised that G.O. 44 would be restored if it was elected to power. The assurance was repeated in the Governor's address to the Assembly after the AIADMK regained power. Adi Dravida Welfare Minister V. Subramanian's announcement in the Assembly on September 7 was but a redemption of this pledge.

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