Bihar: Reservation in outsourcing

Arun Srivastava

While Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar introduced quota provision in the outsourced government jobs, he also strongly argued for bringing in the private sector under the ambit of the reservation policy.
With this Nitish could boast of Bihar being the first state in India to have reservation in the outsourced government services. This decision of the state government would mean that now the jobs of class III and class IV outsourced to private agencies will have to be filled according to the legal provisions of reservation.
But his move has been purely a populist measure aimed at consolidating his support base amongst the Scheduled Castes and ST. The fundamental issue is that if the government had managed to fill the vacancies in the Class III and IV jobs, there would not be any need to outsource the jobs. The Nitish government has abdicated its moral responsibility by hiring through private agencies.
The fact is even today a large number of posts are lying vacant in the Class III and IV jobs. If senior officials are to be relied, this is being done with an ulterior motive. Once the recruitments are finalised, the bureaucrats convert these posts into general category and through some mechanism appoint their own favoured persons, often after taking bribes. Though officially these bureaucrats strongly deny this practice prevailing in the government, the fact remains that often some posts remain vacant for want of suitable hands.
Nitish has every right to seek reservation in the private sector and for this a debate should be held at the national level. But he ought to remember that a decade ago the same issue was raised by leaders like Ram Bilas Paswan and other dalit leaders. But the private sector at that stage had vehemently opposed it on the plea that this was an infringement on their constitutional rights. They had pleaded it was their own personal and private business which obviously they had their own right to run according to their requirement. Of course, at that stage they had even said they were committed to the law of the land and would never indulge in illegal activities.
Though Nitish has been quite harsh on those criticising it and even observed that these people had “very little understanding” of the issue, it cannot be ignored that in case of outsourced services, the rules will obviously be different”. It is a debatable issue whether the provisions of the Bihar Reservation Act would have a say in such appointments.
In his haste to build his voters’ base, Nitish has often been found to twist the law and the rules. It had happened in the case of the prohibition law. In his quest to gain public applause he had brought about a change in the Bihar Liquor Act and introduced section 76 (2) which debars any person arrested either for drinking liquor or is found in possession or indulging in sale of liquor from getting bail. But significantly, the division bench of Patna High Court only yesterday described it as unconstitutional and even authorised a lower court to give anticipatory bail to such accused persons. This order is indeed a personal loss for Nitish and a major setback for his government.
Nonetheless, some people decode Nitish’s stand of reservation in outsourced jobs as a strategic attempt to introduce reservation in private sector through the back door. “We in principle favour reservation in private sector too. But for that parliament has to take initiative in accordance with provisions of the Constitution,” he said. Though the state does not have any big industrial or corporate unit in the private sector, initiating any action would add to his political quotient of being pro-poor and pro-dalit. This is urgently required for Nitish at this crucial juncture. He, however, said that outsourcing must not become an excuse to deprive employees of reservation benefits.
According to law, reservation is provided to members of SC, ST, OBC, physically disabled persons, members of religious and ethnic minorities and more for benefits in education, jobs, healthcare, etc. The law doesn’t make it mandatory for private entities to provide reservations unless they are formed under particular sections of the law that make it mandatory.
More than 15,000 people, hired by private agencies, have been working mostly in health, urban development, education and social welfare departments as IT trainers, computer operators, drivers, office boys, security guards and accountants. However, the private sector players do not approve of Nitish’s stance. They are scared that once the reservation is allowed in the outsourced sector, the quality of work would suffer as the new entrants would not prefer to stick to the official rules and norms.
So far, they have been picking the best hands. Now, they will have to abide by the dictates of the caste quota. The new entrants will nurse the feeling that they have got the job due to the benevolent attitude of the chief minister. Nevertheless, private agencies cannot afford to lose a big client like the government that offers big and bulk assignments.
Reservation in outsourcing also suggests there would be very few or no vacancies for class III and class IV jobs in the future. This is the shrewdest move of Nitish. While he intends to win over the OBC, SC and ST, his action will force the upper caste job aspirants, who could eventually prove to be BJP’s loss.
In fact, the state BJP is vertically split on this issue. The upper caste leadership is against this, they argue that reservation is the prime enemy of society and curbs the development of the country. They also point out that reservations are not reaching the people these are meant for, but only help those who are occupy higher positions like government jobs and others with high income. (IPA)

Monday, 13 November, 2017