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Last Updated: May 17, 2007 - 8:46:52 AM
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Temperatures rise as Supreme Court spikes study quotas
Mar 29, 2007 - 7:11:35 PM
Madhusudan Mistry, chief whip of Congress in the Lok Sabha, said the ruling shows the court 'was not keeping pace with the realities in this country. It is still driven by the old mindset inherited from set religious principles and family values'.

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[RxPG] New Delhi, March 29 - The Supreme Court Thursday stayed until August caste-based admissions into India's most elite educational institutions, fuelling political and caste tensions and pitting the judiciary against the legislature.

Taken aback, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance - government insisted it would adhere to the legislation - passed unanimously by parliament in December - and take all legal and constitutional steps to ensure enforcement of the widely criticized quotas for backward classes in IITs and IIMs, known as centres of excellence.

But nevertheless it came under attack from the opposition and also some of its allies, who alleged that the government had failed to counter arguments that led to the law being suspended, effectively halting caste-based admissions into the Indian Institutes of Technology - and the Indian Institutes of Managements - this academic year.

The government announced it would discuss the issue with its allies before taking the next step.

In an order on a bunch of petitions by Youth for Equality and other student bodies, judges Arijit Pasayat and L.S. Panta suspended the implementation of the 27 percent quota for socially and educationally backward classes - students for the coming academic session. Quotas were 'vote bank politics', they said, angering many.

They criticized the government for basing its quota system on an 1931 caste-based census data, saying what may have been valid data in 1931 could never be a determinative factor now to accord reservation.

'Nowhere else in the world castes queue up to be branded as backwards. Nowhere is there a competition to become backward... Reservation cannot be permanent and appear to perpetrate backwardness,' the judges said. Reservations, they argued, 'put the constitutional provision of equality under strain'.

But judges Pasayat and Panta made it clear that they were not opposed to quotas in principle. 'The state is empowered to execute affirmative actions to help backward classes, but it should not have undue adverse impact on those who are left out.'

With an hour of the ruling, the pro- and anti-quota groups were on the streets, either celebrating or voicing their anger.

Medical students who had led nationwide protests against reservation of seats in the elite institutions claimed the ruling was a vindication of their fights.

Supreme Court lawyer M.L. Lahoti, one of the advocates of Youth for Equality, called the ruling a 'big relief'. 'It's a clear and firm observation of the apex court against the government's quota policy,' Lahoti told IANS.

'It's a vindication of our stand and fight for a just cause. While we are jubilant, it's a serious jolt for the politicians,' said Anil Sharma, a senior resident doctor at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences -, one of the country's best medical college-cum-hospitals.

Backward community leaders were disappointed.

'I think the order will affect the academic life of socially backward students. We hope the final order will uphold the quota law,' moaned Udit Raj, a leading Dalit leader.

The Congress was optimistic. 'The court has not stigmatized the concept of reservation per se. The court is not against the concept. It is against the lack of data base,' spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi said.

Pointing out that the legislation was passed by parliament, Human Resource Minister Arjun Singh said: 'I will do what is legally correct and address what is socially required.'

'The quota law was a unanimous decision of parliament and we would strictly adhere to it,' he said.

The Bharatiya Janata Party - hit out against the government. 'Unfortunately, the UPA handled this issue casually and irresponsibly,' BJP leader Mukthar Abbas Naqvi said. 'There should have been a foolproof legislation.'

Some of the ruling party's allies partially agreed with BJP. Former prime minister V.P. Singh, a strong votary of affirmative action, admitted that the government should have handled the issue more carefully.

Expressing his disagreement with the Supreme Court observation that reservation was 'vote bank politics', he said: 'Let there be a referendum on reservation.'

Communist Party of India-Marxist - general secretary Prakash Karat termed the apex court ruling 'uncalled for'.

'The judgement has ignored the fact that there are clear-cut lists of OBCs in all the states,' Karat's party said.

The CPI-M and the Communist Party of India urged the government to take all the necessary steps to ensure that the parliament legislation gets implemented.

Madhusudan Mistry, chief whip of Congress in the Lok Sabha, said the ruling shows the court 'was not keeping pace with the realities in this country. It is still driven by the old mindset inherited from set religious principles and family values'.

Biju Janata Dal MP Tathagata Satpathy, the only one to oppose the bill when it was put for voice vote in the Lok Sabha, felt the ruling was 'sensible'. 'All political parties should be fair to the future generation. The true benefits should go to the people who are economically backward, because there are only two castes here - the rich and the poor,' he said.

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