Why is there a controversy over job appointments in higher education?
Most appointments to central government jobs are recommended by bodies like the Staff Selection Commission or Union Public Service Commission. These organisations generally deal with posts with uniform eligibility criteria — thus, everyone who takes the Civil Services Examination is eligible for IAS, IPS, IFS, or other central services. This makes it easier to distribute posts among qualified candidates in the reserved and unreserved categories.
Earmarking reserved posts in teaching jobs in universities is more complex. This is because fewer vacancies are advertised, and vacancies in different departments are not comparable. For instance, the eligibility for the post of assistant professor in political science is different from the eligibility for the same post in another subject.
So how are reserved posts earmarked?
A position in the roster for any reserved group is reached by dividing 100 by the percentage of the quota that the group is entitled to. For example, the OBC quota is 27% — therefore, they get 100/27 = 3.7, that is, every 4th post for which a vacancy arises. SCs, likewise, get every 100/15 = 6.66, that is, every 7th post, and STs get 100/7.5 = 13.33, that is, every 14th vacancy. Thus, the lower the percentage of reservation provided to a category, the longer it will take for a candidate from that category to be appointed to a reserved post.
What is the ‘13/200-point’ roster? Why are reserved categories objecting to the 13-point roster?
As per the formula for determining reserved posts, it is only after 13.33 positions (14 in round figure) are filled that every reserved category gets at least one post. The expression “13-point roster” reflects the fact that 13.33 (or 14) vacancies are required to complete one cycle of reservations.
Based on this, every 4th, 7th, 8th, 12th, and 14th vacancies are reserved for OBCs, SCs, OBCs, OBCs, STs respectively in the 13-point roster. Which means (i) there is no reservation for the first three positions and, (ii) even in the full cycle of 14 positions, only five posts — or 35.7% — go to the reserved categories, which is well short of the constitutionally mandated ceiling of 49.5% (27% + 15% + 7.5%).
The new 10% quota for the economically weaker sections (EWS) has widened this gap further. This is because every 10th post (100/10 = 10) is now reserved for EWS — which means six reserved seats in every cycle of 14, or 42.8% reservation when the ceiling is 59.5% (49.5% + 10%).
There is another problem, which indeed, lies at the heart of the current controversy. In smaller departments, say, those with fewer than four teachers, the 13-point roster — in which reservation kicks in only with the fourth vacancy — allows a situation in which representation to reserved categories can be denied all together. And they can appoint five teachers from the ‘general category’ against only one from a reserved category (OBC).
So, in order to provide the constitutionally mandated 49.5% reservation, the University Grants Commission (UGC) started to treat the university/college as a ‘unit’ (rather than individual departments), and adopted what is called the ‘200-point roster’, which was already being used by the Department of Personal and Training for appointments in all central government services.
It is called ‘200-point’ since all reserved categories can get their constitutionally mandated quantum of reservation once 200 seats are filled. And since no single department in an institution can have 200 seats, it made sense to treat the whole institution/university (rather than the department) as the ‘unit’ to calculate the quota.
Is the 200-point roster the ideal system?
It is better than the 13-point roster. While the 13-point roster falls far short of the mandated percentage of reservation, the 200-point roster allows for it, provided exactly 200 appointments are made. The reservation falls short even here, if the number of appointments is either less or more than 200.
What makes the 200-point roster more effective in ensuring the broad goal of 49.5% reservations is the fact that the quota deficit in one department can be made up by another.
How did the present controversy arise?
The 200-point system of implementing reservations was adopted by all central universities by 2014. In April 2017, Allahabad High Court struck down the 200-point roster, saying “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.”
The Supreme Court upheld this decision that June, and on March 5, 2018, the UGC notified changes to its guidelines, directing universities to treat the department, rather than the university or college, as the ‘unit’, thus bringing back the 13-point system.
Following a furore, the Centre moved a Special Leave Petition in the Supreme Court in April. The court rejected the petition in January 2019. Last Thursday, the Cabinet cleared an ordinance to bring back the 200-point roster. But the ordinance was challenged in court the very next day.
What are the main arguments of SC/ST/OBC groups against the 13-point roster?
n The proportion of reservation in the 13-point roster, irrespective of the number of posts filled, falls far short of the constitutionally mandated quota, in effect violating the Constitution itself.
n The HC order created two standards in the implementation of reservations in faculty recruitment: department as the unit (13-point roster) for SC/ST/OBC appointments, and institution as the unit (200-point roster) for appointment of Physically Handicapped. If the 200-point roster is seen to create a disparity between the SC/ST/OBC and unreserved categories, isn’t the same problem created if the 13-point roster is followed for SC/ST/OBC and the 200-point roster for Physically Handicapped?
n The problem of “some departments/subjects having all reserved candidates and some having only unreserved candidates” exists in the 13-point roster as well. On June 1, 2018, BHU advertised 80 posts, out of which 12 were reserved (under the 13-point roster). All these reserved posts were in the Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery and Otorhinolaryngology, while all posts in the Department of General Medicine were unreserved.
What is the evidence from the actual working of the 13-point roster?
The UGC report of 2016-17 shows the combined representation of SCs, STs, and OBCs among assistant professors, associate professors, and professors in all central universities (excluding colleges) were 32%, 7.8% and 5.4% respectively — less than the 49.5% reservation ceiling.
A glimpse of the future effect of the 13-point roster is visible in the advertisements for faculty positions after the UGC’s March 5, 2018 notification. Central University of Haryana advertised 80 seats, but none for SCs, STs, and OBCs. IGNTU (Amarkantak) advertised one reserved post out of 52, and Central University of Tamil Nadu advertised 2 reserved posts out of 65.
What is the way out of this situation?
Perhaps the best solution, without affecting the interests of unreserved categories, would be to make the roster (either 13-point or 200-point) for reserved positions by taking all reserved categories together (49.5%).
In this way, every second post (100/49.5 = ~ 2) will be reserved, which can then be distributed among all reserved categories as per their respective quotas (OBC 27%, SC 15%, ST 7.5%).
Anish Gupta teaches Economics at the University of Delhi.