How is it possible that a village at a distance of just 2 km from district headquarters, having all modern facilities be declared a backward area, Rayees Masroor writes
The most fundamental principle of justice and the one that has widely been accepted is, ‘Equals should be treated equally and unequal unequally’. It is largely believed that the dream of a society based on justice, fairness and equality can be achieved by affirmative action policies which focus on employment and education of disadvantaged groups in the society through compensatory discrimination. India has the longest history of reservations and affirmative actions of various kinds in different sectors to address the issues of inequality and discrimination.
Indian constitution has a number of provisions which enable the governments at the national and state level to offer certain reservations in favour of the depressed and the disadvantaged people in the social fabric. Jammu Kashmir has also been generous enough to employ various kinds of affirmative actions to ensure upliftment and development of socially and educationally-backward class of citizens of the state. In Jammu Kashmir, the rules and regulations for reservation in favour of socially and educationally-backward class of citizens are governed by the Jammu and Kashmir Reservation Act 2004 subsequently revised in 2006. There is no denying the fact that such rules that ensure justice and fairness in the society are must but at the same time it is imperative that there is no misuse of such policies because that not only makes mockery of such reservations but people who are deserving at the lower strata are deprived of their due share and advantage.
The recent approval and inclusion of 66 villages in the list of Backward Areas by State Advisory Council (SAC) has raised many eyebrows. There is a genuine feeling that the rules and regulations laid down in the reservations act that determine the inclusion and exit in the list of socially and educationally-backward areas have been flouted because a number of villages included in the list do not fulfill the criteria which is needed to be listed for the reservation under the reservations act and SRO 294. How come is it possible that a village which is at a distance of just 2 km from district headquarters and having all the modern facilities be declared a backward area. It is not only a brazen violation of the norms would also have a negative impact on the very essence of such a reservation. One wonders as to how it is possible for a student living in a far-flung area sans modern facilities in terms of electricity and roads to compete with his colleague living in a town with all kinds of facilities at his disposal. In this list of 66 villages, there are towns which even have tehsil headquarters and all other offices and facilities. There are also villages like Mughalpora and Karihama in Kupwara which are not more than 2 to 5 km from the district headquarters.
There is a strong belief that the list has been politically influenced violating all the rules and regulations which govern the conferment of Backward Areas status. There are also complaints from various corners of the State that their genuine demand for the extension of reservations to their areas has been ignored because of not possessing any political or bureaucratic influence. This is sheer injustice with the people who genuinely deserve the reservations under SRO 294 because they are now subjected to face a tough competition even within their own quota. Such injustice will subsequently decimate the very essence of affirmative actions and it will only give rise to reverse discrimination. At the same time, there is also a need to ensure proper adherence of norms at the local level because many times such certificates under SRO 294 are issued to the children of well-influenced people who do not meet the economic criteria laid down in the act.
There are also certain provisions which are illogical and unreasonable like the one that a child must have undergone all his education up to the higher secondary level in his own village or area. It is a well-established fact that the government schools, especially the ones in such backward areas, are not adequately facilitated. To put such a bar essentially means blackmailing a student to sacrifice his academic career only to get a backward area certificate under SRO 294. It is interesting to note that studying in a private educational institution even in the backward area renders a student unfit for reservation.
There is a genuine demand from the people in backward areas that such a provision should be done away and instead, the economic criteria should be made more robust, applicable and deciding in the cases where it’s needed. There is one more discriminatory provision within the compensatory discrimination in the case of a woman who is married in the backward areas as they are eligible for reservation only after completion of 15 years of their marriage. One hopes that the Governor’s administration and the SAC take the necessary steps to make certain corrections so that the areas that have been kept deprived of education, healthcare and other basic amenities are benefited and the ones that are not deserving of such reservations do not get wrongly benefited. Otherwise, if the reservations and quotas are given on the basis of political influence, it will only give rise to reverse discrimination. After all, the worst form of inequality is to try to make unequal things equal.