UGC draft guidelines: Controversy erupts over proposal for de-reservation in higher education institutes

UGC Chairman dismissed the speculations saying that such a provision did not exist in the past it would not be implemented in the future.

ByMahesh M Goudar | Sumit Jha

Published Jan 28, 2024 | 9:19 PMUpdatedJan 28, 2024 | 10:57 PM

UGC draft guidelines

In a significant development, the University Grants Commission (UGC) has unveiled draft guidelines titled “Guidelines for Implementation of the Reservation Policy of the Government of India in Higher Education Institutes” (HEIs).

These guidelines, currently open for public feedback, have stirred controversy due to a particular provision that allows a vacancy reserved for Scheduled Caste (SC), Scheduled Tribe (ST), and Other Backward Classes (OBC) candidates to be declared unreserved if an adequate number of eligible candidates from these categories are not available.

The proposed guidelines have faced criticism from various quarters, including the JNU Students’ Union (JNUSU) — which has announced plans to protest against them — and experts.

Similarly, de-reservation has been proposed for promotions as well.

“If an adequate number of eligible candidates from SC or ST for promotion against reserved vacancies is unavailable, the option to de-reserve such positions and fill them with candidates from other communities is outlined,” according to the UGC drafted guidelines.

The authority to approve the de-reservation of these reserved vacancies in such instances is delegated to either the UGC or the Ministry of Education.

Meanwhile, UGC Chairman M Jagadesh Kumar dismissed the prospect of de-reservations saying that such a provision did not exist in the past it would not be implemented in the future.

“This is to clarify that there has been no de-reservation of reserved category positions in Central Educational Institutions (CEI) in the past and there is going to be no such de-reservation. It is important for all HEIs to ensure that all backlog positions in reserved category are filled up through concerted efforts,” said the UGC in a post on X quoting its chairman.

The Ministry of Education clarified that no reserved posts can be de-reserved.

In a post on X, the Ministry of Education said: “Reservation in Central Educational Institutions (CEI) is provided for all posts in direct recruitment in Teacher’s cadre as per the Central Educational Institutions (Reservation in Teachers’ Cadre) Act, 2019.”

“After enactment of this Act, no reserved post is to be de-reserved. Ministry of Education has given directives to all the CEIs to fill up the vacancies strictly as per the 2019 ACT,” the ministry added.

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Draft guidelines on de-reservation

According to the draft guidelines, a vacancy reserved for SC, ST, or OBC candidates cannot be filled by a candidate other than an SC, ST, or OBC candidate, as applicable.

However, the guidelines also address the process of de-reservation, offering a procedure to convert a reserved vacancy into an unreserved one in specific circumstances.

In the case of direct recruitment, the guidelines impose a general ban on de-reservation of reserved vacancies.

However, it acknowledges rare and exceptional situations where a vacancy in a Group ‘A’ service cannot be allowed to remain vacant in the public interest.

In such cases, the concerned universities may prepare a proposal for de-reservation, providing detailed information such as the post’s designation, pay scale, service affiliation, duties, educational qualifications, efforts made to fill the post, reasons for the vacancy, justification for de-reservation, and any other relevant information.

For Group ‘C’ or ‘D’ posts, the proposal for de-reservation should be presented to the executive council of the university. On the other hand, the de-reservation for Group ‘A’ or ‘B’ posts, should be submitted to the Ministry of Education for necessary approval. Once approved, the post may be filled, and reservations can be carried forward.

The guidelines also address de-reservation in the case of promotions. If a sufficient number of SC/ST candidates fit for promotion against reserved vacancies are not available, the guidelines delegate the power to accord approval for the de-reservation of such vacancies to the UGC/Ministry of Education.

This provision ensures that reserved vacancies in promotions can be filled by candidates from other communities in cases where suitable SC/ST candidates are lacking.

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Congress demands immediate withdrawal

In a scathing critique, the Congress party accused the Modi government of orchestrating a “conspiracy” to dismantle reservations for SCs, STs, and OBCs in higher education institutions.

AICC general secretary Jairam Ramesh voiced strong opposition to the draft guidelines, alleging that they pave the way for de-reserving positions intended for SCs, STs, and OBCs if an adequate number of candidates from these categories are not available.

Highlighting the draft guidelines, Ramesh expressed concern over the potential erosion of reservation policies, claiming that it aligns with the previous stance of RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat, who had hinted at reviewing reservations.

Accusing the Modi government of engaging in “politics of symbolism” with regard to Dalits, backward classes, and tribals, Ramesh emphasised that the UGC’s proposal is unjust and goes against the interests of marginalized communities.

Referencing the recent posthumous awarding of the Bharat Ratna to socialist leader Karpoori Thakur, Ramesh underscored the need for “real justice” instead of symbolic gestures.

He argued that the government’s true intentions are exposed through the UGC’s proposal, and he reiterated the Congress’s commitment to fighting against perceived injustices and continuous attacks on the Constitution drafted by Dr BR Ambedkar.

Ramesh called the proposal to end reservations in colleges and universities “completely unacceptable” and demanded its immediate withdrawal.

‘A lot of qualified candidates’

Meanwhile, Karnataka Minister for Higher Education Dr MC Sudhakar told South First that there are a lot of qualified candidates for the backlog posts.

“The UGC cannot de-reserve posts meant for SC/ST and OBC. We can always fill backlogs in the higher education institutions,” he said.

“There are a lot of eligible, meritorious and qualified candidates for the backlog posts. I have not come across this new draft guidelines of the UGC. I would like to comment only after learning about these new guidelines,” added Sudhakar.

Protesting the draft guidelines, the JNUSU has taken a proactive stance, announcing plans for a protest against the proposed changes.

The guidelines are also under intense scrutiny for their potential impact on the long-standing affirmative action measures in higher education.

Writer and Activist Aravind Malagatti told South First: “If this is implemented, it is a big blow to SC/ST and OBC candidates. They are trying to suppress these communities socio-economically and educationally.”

“The social welfare policies of the democracy have been derailed. They have to continue with the existing system instead of bringing changes,” said Malagatti, who opposed the new draft guidelines on de-reservation.

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Experts take

Dr Muhammed Hussain, a final year postgraduate student who is a resident doctor at Post Graduate Institute of Medical Sciences Rohtak, told South First: “The issue arises when filling positions in the medical field, including promotions and other aspects. It is well-known that top universities — be it IIT or any other — are predominantly occupied by individuals from the general category, sidelining those from OBC and SC/ST backgrounds, often with minimal representation, if any.”

“In the scenario of reservations, if, for instance, there are no SC candidates in a given year, the reserved seat is converted to unreserved. This means a general category student or proposal will fill the vacancy. The concern lies in the fact that the following year if an SC candidate emerges, they are unable to secure the seat.”

“This becomes particularly evident in medical colleges where senior residency, associate, and assistant professor posts are filled. Given the rarity of one or two SC/ST posts in a year, these positions often remain vacant or are backlogged for the next year,” pointed out Dr Hussain.

He further said: “The ambiguity in the guidelines raises questions about the fate of the seat the following year. If a general category student occupies an SC seat for one year, it is unclear whether the seat reverts to SC status in the subsequent year. The guidelines do not explicitly address this concern, making it challenging to anticipate and plan for future SC/ST representation.”

“The fundamental issue here is the absence of clarity in the guidelines regarding the reversion of seats to SC/ST status in subsequent years. Once a seat is allocated to a general category individual, it remains so until their retirement.”

“This raises practical challenges in waiting for a seat to be available in the next year, given the fixed ratios and financial considerations. The lack of specific provisions in the guidelines leaves a significant question mark on the continuity and fairness of SC/ST representation in the medical profession,” Dr Hussain expressed apprehensions.

Former vice-chancellor of the University of Mysore G Hemanth Kumar told South First: “This is not new. These practices existed earlier as well. In these guidelines, they have stressed de-reservation in backlogs and promotions.”

“These are mere guidelines. It cannot become a rule and be generalised. The smaller states such as Sikkim and Goa can benefit from this because of less competition. However, there will be sufficient candidates for each post in bigger states,” added Hemanth Kumar.

“The reservation is a state subject. The state government can decide whether to accept it or not. The state government has its own rules when it comes to the reservation policies pertaining to recruitment,” Kumar said highlighting that UGC guidelines cannot be rules.

United Doctors Front Association National President Dr Lakshya Mittal told South First: “This decision by the UGC is beneficial for students, and it’s essential to view it without political bias. When examined objectively, the reserved category does not incur any loss.”

“Students from the reserved category are rightfully given priority, and in cases where seats remain vacant due to the unavailability of reserved candidates, it becomes an opportunity for general category students,” added Dr Mittal.

He continued: “This move ensures that available seats are effectively utilized, and deserving students, irrespective of their category, have an opportunity to secure admissions. It addresses the issue where some students, despite vacancies, struggle to secure admission.”

“In essence, the decision promotes fairness and equal opportunity, ensuring that educational opportunities are maximized. It is crucial to recognise the positive impact of such measures in fostering a more inclusive and accessible educational system,” said Mittal who is in favour of the UGC draft guidelines.