April 20, 2006

No surrender on quota, says Industry

Rajeev Ranjan Roy | New Delhi

Task force on affirmative action set up----- Indian industry has put Union Social Justice & Empowerment Ministry in a bind by constituting a task force on affirmative action (TFAA) in view of the fresh chorus of protests over extending reservation for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (SC/ST) in the private sector.

Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) president R Seshasayee on Thursday constituted a task force on affirmative action headed by Tata Sons Director Dr JJ Irani. Leaving no scope for any kind of "doubt" about the industry's stated stand on the reservation issue, Mr Seshasayee reiterated "mandatory reservation in any form is not conducive to competitiveness of the industry. It is not acceptable."

The observation of Mr Seshasayee is strictly in tune with the concerns raised by other leading industry players including Bajaj group chairman Rahul Bajaj who had reportedly threatened to move court if the Government imposes any kind of reservation on them.

Top industry barons including Azim Premji, NR Narayanmurthy, Nandan Nilekani, Sunil Mittal, and Rahul Bajaj have favoured affirmative action against the reservation for SC/STs in the private sector.

The task force would prepare a detailed "action plan that will focus on education, skills development, employability, entrepreneurship and social development" of the needy to bring them into the mainstream of industrial jobs. The action plan would be ready in eight weeks and be implemented by CII to focus on inclusiveness.

Reacting to the development, an official of social justice ministry said, "We appreciate the industry's concern and urge for initiating affirmative action, but feel the Government will have to act in right earnest to get things done."

The Group of Ministers (GoM) headed by Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar in the report to the Government has cited "an act to amend the Constitution as the only viable option to realise the proposition."

"Affirmative action is the Government's responsibility. Which is why the Government has given reservation to SC/ST students in the colleges and other institutions. They are getting trained, but do not have any significant presence in the private sector. The industry players have been talking of affirmative action since the inception. There can be no reservation for SC/ST in the private sector without amending the Constitution," Ministry officials argued.

"Introduction of quota for SC/ST in the private sector does not appear to be an impossible proposition. It is up to the Government how it goes about the quota," sources said. In the public sector, SC/ST and OBCs have 22.5 and 27 per cent reservation in jobs respectively. OBC leaders and Members of Parliament have already taken up the cudgels for their share in the private sector.

"As of now, the things suggest the issue of SC/ST reservation in the private sector would meet the fate of Women's Reservation Bill. Reservation would be possible only when there is a consensus among all political leaders over the inclusion of all stakeholders to which the industry would hardly agree," the official said.

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