announcement of the Odisha Government on 21st December 2020 to reserve seats in Engineering and Medical Colleges of the State, from the next academic session onwards, for students studying in Government schools is indeed historic.
In doing so the Odisha Government has emerged in our country as the second State after Tamilnadu which reserved 7.5 per cent seats on 18th November 2020 in such colleges of that State for students of Government schools.
The aforementioned announcement of the Odisha Government has been accompanied by a decision of the State Cabinet on 28th December that a High Powered Committee headed by a retired judge of the High Court with one renowned educationist and another eminent person as its members would give a report in three months recommending concrete shape of it and ways and means of implementing it.
Reservation welcomed by people
Across the State it has been hailed by people from diverse sectors and backgrounds. One of the early welcome tweets was that of Shri Sudhir Rout from Berahampur who on 21st itself thanked the Chief Minister for declaring to reserve seats for students of Government schools in engineering and medical colleges and hoped that it would be implemented soon and “help improving the academic standards of the Govt schools and colleges”.
More Poverty Stricken and SC and ST Students and Study in Government Schools
Leading Biju Janata Dal (BJD) leader Shri Pranab Prakash Das, Organising Secretary of the party, tweeted on 28th December, “As a student of Govt School, I am elated that we could create a #LevelPlayingField for the poor meritorious students, especially rural area students whose dreams die prematurely. Now these students can dream BIG irrespective of whether they have access to coaching centres or not”. (https://twitter.com/pranabpdas/status/1343574103282778112
The subscript of both the tweets is that Government school students would be benefitted and there is a possibility that such schools as a whole would be able to improve their standards because of the affirmative action in favour of the alumni of these schools. Preference accorded to students of Government schools for getting access to engineering and medical colleges through reservation of seats constitutes a preference for those students who because of their socially and economically challenging situation could not get access to so called public schools or even coaching institutes and had no option but to join the Government scholls which provided education at a nominal price to all.
Eminent journalist P Sainath had once sensitively observed that to find students of SC and ST communities and those from socially and educationally deprived and poverty stricken backgrounds one has to visit a Government schools which till today provide education to them at a highly affordable cost because these schools are public funded educational institutions.
These students studying in schools located in villages, remote locations and often inaccessible areas have hardly any wherewithal to get facilities for coaching which the students from towns and cities and with a sound educational and economic backgrounds easily get. Therefore, by reserving seats for students from Government schools the Odisha Government has taken an exemplary stand in favour of those students who are bright but disadvantaged on account of their weak financial position or any other retarding social factor.
National Education Policy and Reestablishment of reestablishing “the credibility of Government schools”
Therefore, the sole purpose behind the idea for reserving seats for students of Government schools is to give them a level playing field. It will generate hope and aspiration among them that they would now get access to engineering and medical colleges by overcoming the handicaps caused by social and economic factors. It is sincerely hoped that the decision of the State cabinet would empower the students, schools and all those associated with it to uplift educational standards of these educational institutions.
Of late because of commercialisation of education and market determined preference of educationally and financially well off parents to admit their children in privately funded expensive public schools, the image and standards of Government schools have suffered severe erosion. And yet these schools are preferred by students whose parents can never afford to admit them in expensive schools. It is for these reasons that the National Education Policy 2020 rightly talks about reestablishment of “the credibility of Government schools”.
The Government of Odisha by taking a bold and historic decision to reserve seats for students of Government schools in engineering and medical colleges is reaffirming the objective of reestablishing “the credibility of Government schools”. So the decision of the Odisha Government in this regard is a decision in tune with the objective of the National Education Policy. BJP criticises in Odisha and Claims Credit in Tamilnadu
It is rather tragic that such a historic decision has been recklessly criticised by the Odisha State unit of the BJP. It has expressed surprise that such weird suggestions and ideas are being pursued by the State Government and wanted to know as to who tendered such advice to the Government. The BJP spokesperson wondered if reservation of seats based on the criteria of govt. school students could be held constitutionally valid. It was claimed by the party that such a decision of the State Government would not stand judicial scrutiny. (https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=SS53Syim1iY
The basic point the BJP unit of Odisha forgets is that the Odisha Government is yet to come out with a detailed plan on the issue. It has set up a Committee to be headed by a retired judge of the High Court and based on the report and its recommendations a detailed plan would be prepared. So instead of waiting for the report it is prejudging the issue and needlessly and mindlessly criticising it.
It is indeed paradoxical that BJP which is an ally of the AIADMK in Tamilnadu is not critical of the similar decision of the Government of that State headed by AIADMK itself. Rather it is claiming that the idea to reserve seats in engineering and medical colleges for students of Government schools originated from BJP in 2017. In fact it is now found that Shri Nadda, the current BJP President, during his tenure as Union Health Minister had given such an idea.
The news item of the Economic Times of 15th April 2017 under the caption “Tamil Nadu can give reservation to rural students under NEET: JP Nadda” clearly validate the point that he approved reservation for students of Govt schools. Responding to reporters' queries on Tamil Nadu seeking an exemption from the eligibility test for medical admissions he had said, "I have told them that for the students of the state board or those from a rural background, they (state government) have full freedom to have their own reservation policy," (https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/industry/services/education/tamil-nadu-can-give-reservation-to-rural-students-under-neet-jp-nadda/articleshow/58195192.cms?from=mdr
In the context of record of top BJP leaders in case of Tamilnadu one finds the bitter criticism of the Odisha Government by the State BJP leaders on a similar decision quite grotesque. It exposes not only the double standard of BJP but also its lack of application of mind on the issue.
It quoted Suryah who said that “the current BJP president and former Union Health Minister, J P Nadda, was the first to moot the suggestion in order to ensure that government school students, particularly in rural areas, did not lose out”. He maintained that “The suggestion for providing government school students a quota came from Nadda when political parties in Tamil Nadu protested against the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET) for graduate and post graduate medical college seats”.
Pointing to Nadda’s formula, Suryah then said that the State could reserve some seats exclusively for government school students. It is understood that the Tamilnadu Bill providing reservation for students of Government schools got the assent of the Governor of the State after he obtained legal clearance from the Attorney General of India. It means sufficient precautions have been taken in Tamilnadu by the constitutional authorities to ensure that the measure would not infringe the prevailing law.
Taking into account all these factors one finds that the opposition of the BJP unit of Odisha State to the decision of the Government of Odisha to reserve seats for students of Government schools is indeed bizarre and outrageous. It only proves the point that BJP leaders of Odisha should be mindful of the actions of the leaders of their own party in other States on exactly similar matters which have been given legal clearance by the Attorney General of India. BJD must educate the public on the dual standards of BJP and expose its hollow and baseless criticism by placing such facts in public domain.
#The author served as Officer on Special Duty and Press Secretary to President of India late Shri K R Narayanan and had a tenure in Prime Minister’s Office and Joint Secretary in Rajya Sabha Secretariat. Views expressed in the article are in his personal capacity.