The Narendra Modi government wants to implement the new 10% reservation for the upper-caste poor in admissions to higher educational institutions from the 2019 session itself. The constitutional amendment that introduced the quota last week provides for it to be extended to those seeking government jobs as well. But the Ministry of Human Resource Development has been silent on how or when the reservation will be implemented in recruitment of teachers in higher education.

Teachers in public institutions expect chaos. Reservation in recruitment is already more complicated than in student admissions. Appointments to teaching posts are staggered over years and not made all at once as in the case of admissions.

Currently, 15% of all teaching posts in every university or college department are reserved for the Scheduled Castes, 7.5% for the Scheduled Tribes and 27% for the Other Backward Classes. But departments seldom have enough posts to make at least one reserved category appointment in a round of recruitment. Say, a department has a total of six posts or two vacant posts. In either case, the 7.5% reservation for the Scheduled Tribes translates into less than one position. To overcome this problem, universities and colleges reserved posts against the total number of vacant positions, across departments. A department may not be able to make 14 appointments at once – the minimum needed to ensure at least one post and not a fraction is reserved – but the institution as a whole can.

This system was upended in March 2018 by a directive of the University Grants Commission, based on an Allahabad High Court order. It directed universities to reserve positions by department. This saw the number of reserved posts reduce drastically, particularly for the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes. As such, a department with two vacancies could not possibly apply reservation for any category.

There were reports of the ministry attempting to restore the old system, first through an ordinance and later a new law, but the upshot is that recruitment is on hold everywhere.

Teachers also want to know if the new 10% quota will be applicable to all posts. At present, the 27% quota for the Other Backward Classes applies only at entry-level, that is, assistant professor posts.

Teachers believe the implementation of the new quota will further complicate a vexed issue and delay appointments in institutions struggling with staff shortage.

Assessing economic backwardness

The first question teachers ask is how universities and colleges will assess economic backwardness of applicants. Candidates with an annual family income under Rs 8 lakh are eligible for the new quota.

“The first problem is giving a job to a 25-year-old or a 30-year-old only on the basis of their parents’ income,” said Abha Dev Habib, a Delhi University teacher. “Those over 25 are not considered dependent. They are not even covered under policies and schemes such as their parents’ insurance and leave travel allowance. But the parents’ income can apparently be cited to secure a job.”

In June 2018, the ministry raised the minimum qualifications for the position of assistant professor. From 2021, applicants for even entry-level jobs in universities will need a PhD to be eligible, and in colleges they will need a PhD to be promoted. This implies more years of study and older applicants.

There are also questions about whether tax-exempt fellowships and scholarships that applicants may receive as researchers will count as income.

The OBC issue

A section of teachers has been fighting to have the Other Backward Classes quota implemented at all levels. The new quota may harm their campaign.

In 2006, reservation for the Other Backward Classes was limited to the entry-level post of assistant professor, mainly to ensure the number of open posts did not drop significantly.

Sony Kunjappan, president of the Central University of Gujarat Teachers’ Association, is among the teachers who think the Other Backward Classes quota should be implemented at all levels. “The ministry has implemented it fully [in humanities and social sciences] at the Indian Institutes of Technology but the University Grants Commission, under the same ministry, has not,” he explained. “How can one ministry have different policies?”

In October, things were looking up for these teachers. The law ministry asked the human resource development ministry why the Other Backward Classes quota was not implemented for all posts like those for the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes.

But the new quota may complicate things. The Other Backward Classes reservation comes with an income clause – the candidate must belong to the “non-creamy layer” to be eligible, that is, their annual family income must be under Rs 8 lakh. Teachers have pointed out that the new quota, which stipulates the same income criterion but without considering social backwardness, could also be applied only at the entry level. The entry-level salary – which can add up to over Rs 80,000, including benefits, in some places – is enough to render the successful candidate ineligible for the quota at the time of appointments to senior positions.

In effect, a second quota with income as a factor will make it more difficult to push for extending the Other Backward Classes quota to all levels.

If, though, the order for implementing the new 10% quota covers posts at all levels “it will be immediately challenged legally”, said a teacher.

Read more:

What teachers in public universities have to say about Modi government’s 10% quota

Modi government wants private universities to implement quotas – but who will pay student fees?

How will the new 10% quota affect admissions to colleges?