The business of deprivation points started from JNU, entered the policy systems of the NDA at the highest level of policy advice. But the powers that be, while eulogising this at meta policy levels, went on to question them at JNU. When policy debates become highly politicised in the wrong sense of the term, intellectual consistency and time-honoured criteria of judging good policies, like the relationship between objectives and instruments, go for a sixer.
In JNU, in the beginning, the preference to children from backward regions and poor families was absolute. A new elite was being created, without any discrimination, as it were. You can make out a JNU-trained SP, collector or joint secretary a mile off. It is ironic, but perfectly understandable, that senior intelligence officers monitoring the present JNU story were JNU-trained. When I was a minister going to a meeting, the ranking civilian there would whisper in my ears: “Sir, I am JNU, 1982 batch. Wink wink, nudge nudge.” We won’t say it, but we know what we want, what we are doing, what to say and how to get it done. All clubs are like that and this was then and, I suspect now, not any different.
JNU’s admission policies are reviewed every five years. When I was their vice-chancellor (VC), I gave the students union some money to organise debates on this. The business of deprivation points came up. The radicals wanted many deprivation points around the merit criteria to give weightage to backwardness. At least 50 points out of 1,000. The opposite was also argued. The alums who came in were persons like Prakash Karat, Sitaram Yechury and Anand Sharma, all former JNU-ites. Also, outside experts like the historian Barun De and others, joined. Finally, we agreed on 10 deprivation points out of a total score of 1,000.
Around the admission range there is a struggle. At each point there are scores of kids. The VC’s job between June-end and August 15 when it all closes, is just to protect the unique, totally foolproof and non-tamperable admission system from the pressures of the highest in the land. A few deprivation points will matter.
In the final admission system, it was decided, after a lot of bloodletting, that if you were a girl, poor and did your qualifying degree from the poorest quartile of districts, you got 10 points. At the other end, if a boy and poor, you got three. Eight kids made it on account of deprivation thus defined. The radicals went for me hammer and tongs. Only eight! I told them that eight is a lot and my job was to run the best university in the country. I will work for the revolution after I leave JNU.
N.C. Saxena picked it up when he was planning secretary. He did what I wanted, although haltingly. He introduced deprivation points in the national poverty debate. To my regret, he did not change the Alagh Poverty Line but within it, introduced deprivation points to enable entitlements to plan benefits. Arvind Panagariya inherits that and his vision for the next three years is out. Not the chhota press version for those who can’t read and must see PPTs, but a regular plan document. There is something about this planning business. You can say, abolish it, wipe it out, Mahalanobis stuff, and then, you come out with the same; of course, taking into account the changes taking place and of course, the natural fact that you will do better. The ghosts of Yojana Bhavan haunt you; the urge to do better is natural.
So, the document has all the planning and policy chapters and we will, of course, discuss them again. There are targets, financial resources, regional development and sectoral strategies, the works. It starts: “the signs of change began to emerge during the second half of the 1980s, with 1991 proving a turning point. The reforms that followed first under Prime Minister Narasimha Rao and then under Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, placed India first on a six per cent growth trajectory and then, beginning in 2003-04, on an eight per cent plus trajectory (emphasis added).’’ Discussing MGNREGA, it says: “Therefore there is a need for developing inclusion, exclusion and deprivation criteria (emphasis added)”. Panagariya’s preliminary thoughts on poverty in a separate note say the same. It’s business as usual; only the Niti Aayog doesn’t disburse. Deprivation points are safe at the meta level, but not in JNU.