Two weeks after the University Grants Commission (UGC) notified a new formula for implementing reservation in teaching posts across universities, the government is learnt to be considering legal options to undo the order, including filing a special leave petition in the Supreme Court.
According to the new formula, first reported by The Indian Express on October 23, 2017, reservation in faculty positions will be calculated department-wise, instead of being based on the total posts in a university. The higher education regulator announced the change on March 5.
The rethink on the UGC order stems from the recommendations of the inter-ministerial committee that was constituted this month at the behest of the parliamentary panel on the welfare of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. The committee had representatives of the Law Ministry, UGC, Social Justice and Empowerment Ministry and DoPT.
According to UGC sources, the inter-ministerial committee observed that the new order will shrink the number of SC, ST and OBC teachers in higher education. It also urged the HRD Ministry and UGC to take all possible steps to restore the old formula under which reservation in faculty posts was calculated based on aggregate posts in a university.
The government, UGC sources said, is now taking legal opinion on all its options to retract the UGC order, including filing a special leave petition in the Supreme Court against the Allahabad High Court order that struck down the UGC formula of calculating reservation in faculty positions based on the total posts in a university.
In April 2017, hearing a case on teachers’ recruitment at the Banaras Hindu University, the Allahabad High Court said that each department, rather than the entire university, should be treated as the “unit” on which reservations are based.
The court was unhappy with the UGC’s policy of implementing reservations in a “blanket manner” and advised the regulator to revisit its implementation. “If the university is taken as a ‘unit’ for every level of teaching and applying the roster, it could result in some departments/ subjects having all reserved candidates and some having only unreserved candidates. Such a proposition again would be discriminatory and unreasonable. This again would be violative of Article 14 and 16 of the Constitution,” the Allahadbad High Court had observed in its verdict that cancelled the BHU recruitment and asked it to start afresh.
Subsequently, the UGC’s standing committee examined 10 court judgments on the issue and recommended that the Allahabad High Court’s ruling should be applied to all universities. The new department-wise formula of implementing reservation was a consequence of that.
The higher education regulator’s announcement on March 5 sparked protests from teachers as the new formula was perceived to be hurting the interests of candidates belonging to the reserved categories. The matter was even flagged by the parliamentary committee on the welfare of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, headed by BJP’s Kirit Solanki, following which the inter-ministerial committee was set up.
However, matters came to a head after Social Justice and Empowerment Minister Thaawarchand Gehlot sent a strongly-worded letter to HRD Minister Prakash Javadekar asking him to rescind the order.
Gehlot’s letter, a copy of which has also been sent to the Prime Minister’s Office, states that the “spirit of the Constitution should reflect in the representation of these categories in various educational institutions”.
Explaining how these communities got a greater representation under the previous system of treating the university as a unit, the letter states, “As per roster, every fourth position is reserved for OBC, seventh for SC, and 14th for ST. If the department is considered as a unit, the representation of these groups would be almost nothing.”
Earlier, the number of SC, ST and OBC faculty positions were calculated by treating the university as a “unit”. In other words, all posts of the same grade, such as assistant professor, across different departments in a university were grouped or clubbed together to calculate the reserved quota.
Under the new UGC formula, reservation is applied by treating each department in a university as a “unit”. For example, the number of reserved posts at the level of assistant professor will be determined separately for each department, calculated based on the total assistant professor posts in each department.
“Take professors, for instance. There are fewer professors in a department compared to assistant professors. If a department has only one professor, there can be no reserved posts as reservation cannot be applied in case of a single post. But if all posts of professors across different departments are clubbed together, then naturally there is a better chance of positions being set aside for SCs, STs and OBCs,” P S Krishnan, former secretary to the central government and an expert on the subject, had told The Indian Express last year.
The current representation of SCs, STs and OBCs among teachers in higher education is pretty abysmal. According to a government report released in 2016, seven out of every 100 teachers in colleges and universities are from the disadvantaged sections. In absolute numbers, only 1.02 lakh — or 7.22 per cent — of the 14.1 lakh teachers in 716 universities and 38,056 colleges across the country were Dalits. The tribal faculty was just 30,000 or 2.12 per cent.