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AAP govt scraps job quota for tribals in Punjab, comes under fire

Punjab CM Bhagwant Mann

Chandigarh: In a controversial order, the Punjab government has withdrawn 2 percent reservation available, with specific conditions, to tribal castes (vimukt jatis) since 2001, evoking wide condemnation.

The trouble started with an executive order dated September 15, 2022, that withdrew the tribals’ reservation quota halting the issuance of appointment letters to over 250 candidates who had been already selected. These successful candidates were to be given jobs in various government departments. As many as 133 ETT teachers, 76 Bed teachers, 2 Agriculture Development Officers, were among those who had been selected.

The Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) government on December 20, 2001, allowed 2 percent reservation to tribal castes who, because of a legislative aberration, were left out from the 12.5 percent reservation quota available to ‘mazabi’ and ‘balmiki’ sub-castes of the scheduled castes (SCs). The Constitution allowed a total of 25 percent reservation to all the sections of SCs.

Keeping in view the economic depravity of vimukt jatis, the then Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal accepted the long pending demand of tribals by sanctioning them job quota. The 2 percent reservation was to be allowed from the total advertised posts left unfilled by ‘mazabi’, and ‘balmiki’ castes of SCs, including the posts left unfilled by SC sports persons and SC ex-servicemen.  The 2 percent quota for vimukt jatis was supposed to germinate from the non-availability of suitable candidates out of the total posts advertised from the categories mentioned above.

The manner and the timing of the withdrawal of the reservation facility for tribals have sent shockwaves in the community. The selection process ended on September 7, and the successful candidates awaited appointment letters, but the quota was withdrawn, at the last moment on September 15.

Ranjit Singh Bajaj, a senior lawyer in the Punjab and Haryana High Court, explains, “the reservation facility under which the selection process has already been completed on September 7, 2022, cannot be abolished by an order passed 8-days later on September 15. Withdrawal order cannot legally have a retrospective effect,” he adds.

He further says, “the rights of one who passed written examination and interview cannot be terminated after the selection process is over as his claim to that particular job accrued before the date of reservation termination order especially when it is continuing since 2001.”

Raj Bahadur Singh, Joint Secretary, Department of Welfare, maintains that the reservation policy for vimukt jatis has only been rectified as per the mandate of the 2001 order. The order allowed 2 percent reservation of unfilled posts of ‘mazbis’, ‘balmikis,’ and other SC categories and not of total advertised posts. He adds that courts do not allow reservation within the reservation.

But Babu Singh, president of Vimukt Jatis Development Federation, rejected Raj Bahadur Singh’s argument. He says, going by the Welfare Department’s premise, the total 25 percent reservation for SCs should not have been divided into two sets of 12.5 percent quota for different categorised castes of the SCs.

Babu Singh emphatically records his opposition to the present reservation policy and wants it to be abolished as only rich and influential SCs have benefited resulting in the creation of a creamy layer. “The reservation should be based on the economic condition of people, they may be of any caste or category,” he adds.

Meanwhile, selected candidates who have been denied appointment letters are sitting on a dharna in front of the Faridkot residence of Baljit Kaur, Welfare Minister, for the last about 3 months.