Home Opinion Why discretionary quotas in KVs are inherently unfair

Why discretionary quotas in KVs are inherently unfair

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In a recent development, admissions through special provisions schemes were held in abeyance by the Kendriya Vidyalaya (KV) Sangathan. The decision to stop admissions through various quotas, although ad interim, was an expected upshot of the animated discussions on the issue in the recently concluded Budget session. While this reveals progress in the government’s deliberations on the controversy, a decisive stance remains pending.

Admissions under the special schemes comprise 21 distinct quota categories of which two — the Member of Parliament (MP) quota and the sponsoring authority quota — are concerning. Both allow admissions over and above the class strength of KVs and have an unaccountable discretionary element.

Every MP has a quota to recommend 10 admissions to KVs. Additionally, there’s a quota of at least 17 seats per KV with sponsoring authorities, exercised mostly by the district collector (DC). Thus, across the 1,248 KVs, 30,000-odd seats remain restricted every year to serve the discretionary powers of MPs and DCs.

As India commemorated BR Ambedkar’s 131st birth anniversary on April 14, the suspension is pertinent because the quota has been a blemish on his espoused principles of social justice and inclusion. It has continued despite a flagrant disregard of constitutionally mandated reservations and has been denying marginalised and socially disadvantaged students their right to education.

In 2021-22, of the 7,301 admissions under the MP quota, a paltry 8.34% went to Scheduled Castes (SCs) and 2.9% to Scheduled Tribes (STs) — less than half of the constitutional provision of 15% and 7.5% accorded to SCs and STs respectively. Without any allegiance to the reservation policy, the quota also ignores the right of disabled students to 3% horizontal reservation.

Beyond delivering a mere utilitarian goal of education, government schools such as KVs facilitate an institutional setting for social inclusion. It is essential that they embrace the constitutional principles of reservations and are free from arbitrary admissions. Time and again, the issue has arisen in parliamentary parlance as legislators and judiciaries have wavered over the quota’s validity. Amid the recent salvos of competing views, it is opportune to reassess the relevance of such special admissions.

With over 1.4 million students benefiting from these subsidised schools, the ethos of meritocracy is imperative to sustain their stellar quality. Discretionary quotas bring in distortions as they are not governed by fair considerations for merit. Such powers are an anachronism in today’s India and hardly square with democratic principles.

The debate has two views. One side seeks the enhancement of the quota because the seats allotted to an MP are insignificant and fall short of reasonably meeting the demands of a populous constituency. On the other side, parliamentarians demand the outright scrapping of the quota, citing the infeasibility of exercising this power with fairness.

The clamour for enhancing the quota rightly acknowledges the problem that the allotted number serves almost no purpose, but is misguided in remedying it. The historical trajectory of the MP quota reflects the systemic flaw inherent in it. Notwithstanding three abolishments, including a high court strike-down, the quota has been increased thrice since its inception: From two to five in 2011, from five to six in 2012, and then from six to 10 in 2016. Yet, problematic issues have persisted.

An MP gets a barrage of admissions requests, often at least an order of magnitude higher than the allotted quota. As the quota increased, so did the number of contenders, but disproportionately. Enhancing it further will exacerbate the issue of inciting public dissatisfaction as legislators will be flooded with even more requests, which they will be forced to turn down.

It’s high time such discretionary quotas for admissions in KVs are retired. Prone to either random choice or personal whims, their exercise has been unconstitutional and discounted both merit and transparency.

It is practically infeasible for an MP to comprehensively evaluate every request and select the most-deserving ones. In a democracy, people accord power to representatives on the premise that the person ascertains its best use. Whether an MP or a sponsoring authority has exercised the discretion after adequately assessing each of the multitudes of cases is an open contention and, therefore, gets a lot of flak including allegations of corruption.

It’s tempting to retain the power to exercise discretion, especially when it allows for doling out favours to people in a constituency. Maybe that explains the quota’s continued persistence despite its erratic history. But the fact that we have successfully abolished many discretionary powers in the past, augurs well. Even the Union education minister has relinquished his quota in KVs when admissions through it inflated 27 times to 12,295 from the recommended limit of 450.

The current suspension is welcome, but a revision of the relevance of each of the 21 quota categories and the permanent scrappage of the two quotas will be apposite to the times.

Sushil Kumar Modi is former deputy chief minister of Bihar and Member of Parliament, Rajya Sabha 

The views expressed are personal

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