About Private Sector Reservation
14 June, 2004
The Congress' "national
level dialogue" slogan, and the Maharashtra government's legislation
on job reservations in the private sector have infused new blood and
hope among the unemployed Dalit youth. Many senior citizens of the community
are are elated. And why not? The Dalits' legitimate right to reservations
goes beyond the realm of the government sector. How can the private
sector justify its existence without adhering to the objectives of the
Indian Republic, which insists on restructuring Indian society on the
lines of justice? The day India's bourgeoisie allows itself to be persuaded
to comply with the Republic's objectives, half of India's social tensions
would wither away.
What is, however,
missing in this euphoria over "private sector reservation",
is the limitation of the "emancipatory" role these jobs can
play. According to the Union Ministry of Labour (1999), the total work
force in the organised private sector was 86.98 lakh or close to nine
million. At a conservative estimate, low skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled
workers add up to more than three-fourths of the workforce of the Indian
The Dalits may
be having a sizable presence here which is proportionately more than
their share of the national population. Thus, in effect, the Dalits'
claim can be located in some two million white collar jobs - their share
through reservations being about five lakh. These are the jobs (supervisors,
clerks, professionals and managers) where the Dalit presence is likely
to be too little to write home about. The current position, insofar
as these five lakh jobs is concerned, is that they are already taken
by non-Dalits. Will the private sector, if it abides by the policy of
reservations, calculate the backlog and fill the vacancies?
Well, the government
of India has not been able to calculate the backlog vacancies for even
primary level teaching positions in central schools. So it would be
far fetched to expect the private sector to excel in terms of filling
the Dalit quota where even the government has failed. What can be expected
from the private sector is that when it comes to making new appointments,
the share of the Dalits should not be overlooked. The number of such
vacancies would easily run into a few thousand in the best of times.
If we explore the business area, as we have been advocating, and which
has been dramatically removed by the Congress coalition, we find an
altogether a different scenario.
By September 2003,
there were 4,200 licensed liquor shops in Maharashtra. If the Sushil
Shinde government is really honest in empowering the Dalits, it can
allot 22.5 per cent of the licenses to Dalits, which comes to close
to a thousand. These 1,000-odd Dalits liquor shop owners can earn more
than an equal number of IAS officers. In addition, each Dalit liquor
shop owner can give additional employment to at least five other people
to run his business.
has 75,000 licensed liquor shops. If the present Reddy governmt is serious
on Dalit issues, it can allot about 1,700 liquor shops to Andhra Dalits.
Similarly, the PWD, Irrigation and Municipal departments farm out construction
projects worth tens of millions in construction to private contractors.
Even if the smaller contracts, which run into a few lakh each, are reserved
for Dalit contractors, thousands of Dalits in each state can become
economically powerful. So is the case with the Department of Health,
where hospitals buy medicines worth several crore annually. If a proportion
of such purchases is set aside for Dalit chemists, hundreds of Dalits
in each state can rake in big money.
The Agra Dalits
were the first to enter into manufacturing and made big money. Many
turned into millionaires by supplying shoes and belts to the British
army during World War II. That continued after Independence as well.
Agra became the centre of the Dalit movement in northern India. By the
1970's or so, non-Dalit traders entered the field. They began to bag
Army tenders by buying in bulk from Dalit manufacturers. Slowly, they
themselves became manufacturers, forcing the Dalits to retreat. Dalits
now supply raw material to non-Dalit manufacturers. Why can't the Manmohan
Singh government revive the policy and set aside a portion of the Armed
Forces' requirements to the Dalits? The million-strong Indian Army and
paramilitary and police buy shoes and belts worth several hundred crore
every year. All the above measures put neither any extra-financial pressure
on the treasury nor require any legislative action.
The public sector
oil companies reserve 22.5 per cent of their petrol, diesel, kerosene
and LPG dealership for the Dalits. All the nine PSUs could stimulate
employment for lakhs of Dalits by introducing Supplier-Dealership diversity
for Dalits even in the areas of office equipment, electrical gadgets
and furniture. Sadly though, during its earlier four-and-a-half decades
of rule, the Congress couldn't envision creating a strong business class
from within the community. And now, when the opportunity came, it has
betrayed the Dalits in a most ruthless manner.
Now the party leadership
is selling the "private sector job quota" dream, a repeat
of the previous experience when it did not allow Dalits to move beyond
government jobs and become partners in the market economy. An economically
strong Dalit community can be a headache for the mainstream polity,
this they understand better than the Dalits.