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Social Justice: Privatisation Is All About Dalits Losing Out On Opportunities

With the state withdrawing from social sector responsibilities, privatisation of public sector and higher education—in both conventional and professional segments—has drastically curtailed the socio-economic mobility of Dalits and tribals

Social Justice: Privatisation Is All About Dalits Losing Out On Opportunities
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Any revolutionary transformation in society brings in its wake both challenges and opportunities. However, globalisation, with its associated processes like liberalisation, privatisation and information revolution, has brought more challenges than opportunities for the Scheduled Castes (SCs), Scheduled Tribes (STs) and other socially and educationally excluded communities.

According to social scientists, the processes of globalisation have increased social inequalities in society. To begin with, the state began to withdraw from its mandate of creating jobs and taking welfare measures for the larger public good. Soon, its impact was visible. For instance, the “Working Group on Empowering Scheduled Castes” report by the National Commission on Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes revealed that 1,13,430 job opportunities were lost by SCs in the Central government during 1992–97, constituting a decline of 10.07 per cent.

After three decades of globalisation and its associated processes, it has become certain that the government will not only withdraw from the public sector, but also recruitment in these sectors will be on a lateral entry and contractual basis. We can observe a number of circulars asking for consultancy purely on contractual basis. Similarly, commenting on the recent recommendation for lateral recruitment of 31 candidates to the posts of joint secretaries and directors in the government, the Minister of State for Personnel in October last year, said that the lateral entry recruitments by the Department of Personnel and Training are being done through a proper selection process by the Union Public Service Commission.

One thing that’s certain is that such government policies will directly affect employment opportunities and thereby the economic and social mobility of Dalits, because there is no provision for representation for Dalits, in violation of Article 335 of the Indian Constitution.

Globalisation and Impact on Education

There is enough empirical data to prove that globalisation, along with its twin processes of privatisation and liberalisation, has negatively impacted the accessibility of Dalits to higher education, including university, technical, medical, management and other professional education. The government, from 1990 onwards, was probably keen to promote privatisation, as evident from the 2002 Ambani–Birla Report on reforms in the education sector. After privatisation of higher education, it has become out of bounds for SCs and STs and they fall far behind their stipulated percentage of representation provisioned in the Constitution.

Far worse is the representation of Dalits in science, technological and management institutions. However, the most pathetic condition with regard to reservation for Dalits is in the IIMs, IITs and IIITs (see Table). All the 20 IIMs do not implement the reservation policy in their teaching faculty. When in 2020 the Ministry of Human Resource Development wrote a letter asking them to implement the reservation policy for the SCs as mandated by the Constitution, all the IIMs in one voice demanded exemption.

In this era of globalisation, when SCs and STs are not getting access to institutions where their access is guaranteed by the Constitution, one can imagine their plight in private institutions where they have no guaranteed access and purchasing power.

Impact of Public Sector Disinvestment

Dalits are also losing jobs on account of public sector units closing down after disinvestment, albeit the major shareholding going to private interests. The government’s decision to sell public sector banks, airlines and insurance companies, among others, to private interests has already drawn players to invest in these areas. According to the Public Enterprises Survey 2018–19, there were 348 public sector undertakings as on March 31, 2019, out of which 249 were operational. The remaining 86 were under construction and 13 were under closure or liquidation.

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In her third budget speech, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman made it clear that “there will be only four key strategic sectors and all other areas, where there are PSUs, the government will move out and there will be less than two dozen PSUs left”. On the other hand, the prime minister was quoted as saying in February 2021 that “the government has no business to be in business”. The prime minister also added, “Modernise and monetise is the motto we will follow.”

The result is that the government decided to sell its stakes, “in firms such as India’s second-biggest oil firm BPCL, national carrier Air India, largest shipping line Shipping Corporation of India Ltd, helicopter services company Pawan Hans, IDBI Bank and Container Corporation of India, in the next fiscal year beginning April 1. This, along with an initial public offering of Life Insurance Corporation (LIC) and sale of two public sector banks and one general insurance company, will be the largest disinvestment drive ever”.

When SCs and STs are not getting access to institutions where their access is guaranteed, one can imagine their plight in private institutions where they have no access and power.

The government is also giving rights to private parties to maintain airports and railway stations and also run goods coaches and passenger trains. For instance, the Centre in February 2019, privatised six major airports of the country—Lucknow, Ahmedabad, Jaipur, Mangalore, Thiruvananthapuram and Guwahati. Again, SCs and STs will lose their jobs reserved in the Ministry of Civil Aviation and Indian Railways. The government constituted a committee for restructuring of the Railway Ministry and Railway Board on September 22, 2014. Complying with the committee’s report, according to the Press Information Bureau, the government on March 11, 2020, argued that the “railways have planned to introduce 150 passenger trains through private operators in PPP model”.

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Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises

According to the Annual Report 2020–21 of the Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises, a total of 5,37,577 enterprises were registered in the manufacturing sector, whereas 8,65,058 enterprises were registered in the service sector. However, the worst representation is in medium sector enterprises, where compared to 70 per cent of ownership by other castes and communities, their representation is nil. Even in the small sector enterprises, their representation is only 5.50 per cent compared to the 62.82 per cent ownership by other categories of people.

We can conclude that due to the state withdrawal, their socio-economic mobility is being drastically curtailed. The lateral entry in the government sector, privatisation of public sector and higher education—in both conventional and professional segments—have further excluded them. Competition from foreign goods in this era of globalisation has ruined their micro, small and medium enterprises.

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Only a miracle can save SCs and STs.

(This appeared in the print edition as "Losing Out on Opportunity")

(Views expressed are personal)

Vivek Kumar is Professor of Sociology at CSSS/SSS, JNU, Ambedkar Chair and visiting Professor at Columbia University and Humboldt University

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