The Slip between the Reservation Policy and the Roster System

By Adelbert Nongrum

The big question is who has authorised this new change in the Reservation Policy? Can it even be done without amending the principal OM? I have to say that this wrong move is like lighting a fire. Has the Government given any thought to the extent of public anger that will arise out of suddenly changing the opportunities of reservation between the two major communities of the state, without first taking the views and consent of the people who are stakeholders? Government cannot just do what it likes.

Ever since the adjournment motion moved by this writer on the last day of the Autumn Session was not carried for lack of support from fellow legislators, I have been receiving queries as to what was it about the Roster System that I had wanted to present before the House. So in order to try and give a definite explanation, I am taking the route of this newspaper article. Readers kindly bear with me as this is my first attempt at writing, and I am able to do this article only because of encouragement and assistance of well-wishers, who feel that the critical message about the slip between the cup and the lip that I could not put across in the Assembly that day should not be lost.
Raising discussion
in the Legislature
To start with, during the Question Hour proceedings on September 25, I had put a Starred Question to the Government as to what type of Reservation Policy was followed for the last 50 years. The reply given was “Reservation Policy is applied for the vacancies advertised in each recruitment”. Based upon the categorical reply, coming from no less than the Chief Minister in-charge Personnel, it made me question whether the principle of the Reservation Policy was actually being followed in letter and spirit by the Roster System, or was there a slip somewhere.
The Speaker of the Assembly had admitted a Resolution submitted by me on the subject of Roster System, but as the Resolution could not be taken up during Private Members Business for lack of time, I had little option but to move a motion for adjournment to discuss the subject as a matter of urgent public importance. What I had prepared to speak about was, ‘the implementation of the Roster System and the sudden disparity in reservation opportunities to candidates from different communities.’ However since the adjournment motion could not be carried in the House, only the initial part of my prepared script found time to be read out.
In the following paragraphs therefore, I present the extract of my prepared script verbatim, with the sincere hope that the understanding I have on the Reservation Policy may be of benefit to others who may wish to look at the flaws in the Roster System. “
Before the month of April this year, the term ‘Roster System’ was perhaps nowhere in our imagination and understanding. When it suddenly came into the limelight after a High Court order, and thereafter being much discussed in the local news and in public discourse, indigenous citizens of the state wanted to know what this ‘Roster System’ is and how it is going to affect the already contentious issue of Reservation Policy? Such a delicate situation gave room for many to volunteer pitching in their views on the subject, and being limited by incomplete explanations, people at large started asking random questions, including pointing their fingers at some of us who have been raising the issue of Reservation Policy publicly.
Amidst this growing anxiety, we saw two pertinent developments in May and June. First, an Office Memorandum from the Personnel Department on Maintenance of Reservation Roster; and second, the first job advertisement wherein, against particular posts, reservation was shown in favour of a certain community and not for the others. Fear of disparity was already in the back of our minds when we read the OM, but the fear became shockingly real when the job advertisement came out.
To say the least, it was a big blow to the sense of fairness and impartiality, in what is supposed to be equal opportunities for recruitment in State Government jobs. That’s when affected candidates belonging to the deprived communities started to question the Roster System, and even started doubting the intent of the Government in implementing it without thorough consultation with stakeholders.
As an elected representative, I am duty bound to look into the concerns of young job seekers in my constituency. On hearing their grievances I had to do due diligence to research and find out if something was out of place in the Roster System. And what I found is this – The OM of May 10, 2022, which lays down the guidelines for the implementation of the Roster System appears to be alright but it is certainly not in tune with the Reservation Policy as laid out in the OM of January 12, 1972.
Let us read what guidelines ‘A’ of the OM of May 10, 2022 says after the heading ‘Quantum of Reservation’, and I quote – “The Reservation of Posts in favour of the Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Castes will be as per Resolution No. PER 222/71/138 dated 12th January 1972”. Resolution PER 222/71/138 dated 12th January 1972, says, “There shall be a reservation of 40% of the vacancies in favour of Khasis and Jaintias; b) There shall be a reservation of 40% of the vacancies in favour of Garos. A quick reading of the two OMs may look fine, but a careful reading will reveal that the OM of 2022 talks about Reservation of ‘Posts’, whereas the OM of 1972 does not lay down a Resolution on Reservation of ‘Posts’ but rather a Reservation of ‘Vacancies’. I’m sure we are all familiar with the difference in meaning between ‘posts’ and ‘vacancies’, and I hope it explains what I said about the OM of 2022 being “not in tune” with the OM of 1972.
Hence the Reservation Policy that we have been having all along since 1972, is a Reservation of Vacancies, and it is only with the OM of 2022 that the Policy has suddenly changed to a Reservation of Posts. Let me now jog our collective memories to the Budget session of the Assembly in March this year. I had moved a resolution on the State Reservation Policy asking for a review and revamp of the outdated policy, and I had presented that the OMs sustaining the policy were flawed on the basis of Census demographics. Barely a month after the Budget session ended, an Order of the Hon’ble High Court of Meghalaya, on a Writ Petition which was admitted the previous year, relating to a complaint on the preparation of Gradation List for matter of promotion in one Government department, and which involved the consideration of the state Job Reservation Policy, observed that there is no Roster System in the state, and that the Bench was constrained to raise a question how Reservation Policy could be implemented without a Roster.
I will not delve further into the High Court order, nor into its subsequent Orders in the suo moto PIL relating to preparation of Roster but will skip directly to the OM of the Personnel Department of May 10, 2022 relating to Maintenance of Reservation Roster. This particular OM is the key action taken by the Government in pursuance of the two aforesaid High Court orders. In my humble opinion central to the issue is how candidates belonging to one community are today being deprived of reservation in vacancies to new recruitments in posts under State Government service, and I am not just speaking theoretically. Look at the public notice issued by MPSC dated September 9, which is a corrigendum to earlier job advertisements relating to 59 posts. Another public notice appeared the following week as corrigendum to earlier advertisements relating to 121 posts. We can see the disparity in reservations allotted to the different categories. Can we remain silent to the negative outcomes of the Roster System in depriving candidates belonging to one community? Deprived for no fault of theirs, but only because after the preparation of Reservation Roster as per the guidelines of the new OM, the implementation of the State Job Reservation Policy has suddenly changed from earlier ‘vacancy’ based reservation to now ‘post’ based reservation.
The big question is who has authorised this new change in the Reservation Policy? Can it even be done without amending the principal OM? I have to say that this wrong move is like lighting a fire. Has the Government given any thought to the extent of public anger that will arise out of suddenly changing the opportunities of reservation between the two major communities of the state, without first taking the views and consent of the people who are stakeholders? Government cannot just do what it likes.
There is another thing about the OM of May 10, 2022, that most people may not be aware of yet, which is that the OM has put forth not just one Roster System, but in fact two. One Roster System for posts at Directorate/Head Offices, with Reservation of 40:40 in favour of the two major communities of the state; and a Second Roster System for posts at District offices, with Reservation of 80 percent combined, but with preference to local candidates residing permanently in the District. Now this condition of “local candidates residing permanently in the District” is going to open up an entire new controversy, because 50 years of statehood has brought along a migration of communities in search of livelihoods and employment, and Districts are no longer a demarcation of just one community. Even as I write this article, DC offices in various Districts are imparting training and giving instructions on preparing Reservation Roster in every State Government office. So whether we like it or not, the issue of the Roster System is very much real, and the subject of Reservation Policy cannot just be pushed aside, or be silenced.
There is this metaphor in English about an ostrich sticking its head in the ground, which implies that it is unreal to think that if we bury our heads in denial, the issue won’t be seen. We cannot afford to have that kind of attitude. Rather, we ought to clearly weigh all contesting views and review the one-important slip between the Reservation Policy and the Roster System. In doing so we will also recognize that the future of the young people across the state is in the hands of its elected representatives.
(The writer is MLA of Shillong North Constituency)

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