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For Kannadigas Only

A new proposal would dilute the state's multicultural character

For Kannadigas Only

IT is a proposal that has raised eyebrows even in a state that boasts the country's highest percentage of caste and community-based quotas for education and employment. The efforts of the Kannada Development Authority (KDA) to implement the Sarojini Mahishi Committee report, which recommends job reservations for Kannadigas in government departments, public sector units and even in the private sector, could well lead to a piquant situation in the state.

A Kannadiga, moreover, is not merely someone who has lived in the state for 15 years, but who can also speak, read and write Kannada "reasonably well".

Ten years after the report was published, the KDA, which has statutory powers, is doing its best to make the proposals a reality. Over the past few weeks, it has sent circulars to all state government undertakings to furnish details of the number of Kannadigas employed by them since the state government accepted the Sarojini Mahishi report. The KDA has also proposed to appoint a representative on the recruitment panels of public and private sector companies to ensure jobs for Kannadigas. And going by the seriousness of the KDA and its new chairman, litterateur Chandrashekhar Patil, possibly half of Bangalore's job-seekers may go without jobs if the proposals are implemented.

"The Mahishi Committee recommendations remained on paper due to several reasons like lack of political will. But now there's a feeling that Kannadigas must get a share of the development that has been brought about by the economic changes in the country," says Patil. The Mahishi Committee, headed by former Union minister Sarojini Mahishi, was constituted in 1984 to recommend job opportunities for Kannadigas in Karnataka. The KDA was formed in 1992 to implement the committee's report after it was accepted by the state government. Initially directed to examine opportunities only in the government and public sector, the committee's ambit was later extended to the private sector.

The committee recommended that all jobs in the state government departments and PSUs be earmarked for Kannadigas and specified the various percentages of recruitment in Central Government departments and PSUs (see box). Besides, the report also stated that barring, if necessary, senior positions, all employment in the private sector too should be reserved for Kannadigas. Successive state governments maintained a facade of seriousness about the report but did nothing to implement its recommendations.

But with an activist chairman like Patil, a long-time associate of Chief Minister J.H. Patel, and who claims to have the full support of the state government unlike his predecessors, the KDA is confident that Kannadigas are finally set to get their due. "Of what use is development if it does not help locals develop? Should it not be the locals who need to benefit by all the investment, government or private, that comes into a state after the state gives companies land, water and power to set up their facilities?" he asks. However, Patil concedes that things have changed with liberalisation since the tabling of the report 10 years ago. "With the consequent changes in the economy and the private sector assuming an important role, I want to be open about the private sector. There can be some concession at the senior and skilled lab-our level there," says Patil.

The idea has been welcomed by all political parties in the state, though with reservations. Says former Congress chief minister, Veerappa Moily, who has supported the issue since his days as minister in S. Bangarappa's council: "There's nothing wrong in people of a region getting a share of the investment and development in the region. But since we can't afford to alienate good investors with restrictions, we must create a competitive scenario and develop local talent to cater to the human resource pool." However, the vice-president of a blue-chip company with several units in Karnataka disagrees. "The proposal is shortsighted. In these days of globalisation, one can't insist on job quotas for the public or private sector," he says on condition of anonymity. But with Patil confident about achieving his objective, Karnataka's appeal for mobile non-Kannadigas could get diluted. 

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