What is Bihar's Approach to Horizontal Quotas?

India Aug 31, 2021

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Horizontal Reservation refers to allowing other categories of beneficiaries such as women, veterans, transgender community, and people with disabilities the same opportunities as the vertical categories that include reservation for SCs, STs, OBCs and Economically Weaker Sections (EWS). Article 15(3) of the Constitution allows governments to make special provisions for women and children.

The Bihar government recently announced 33% horizontal reservation for women in State engineering and medical colleges. A variety of benefits can be gained from this initiative across sectors, departments, and states. In India, the female labor force participation (FLFP) rate is consistently declining and is alarmingly low. According to the World Bank, the FLFP dropped from 31.79% in 2005 to 21% in 2019. The Bihar Economic Survey 2019-20 shows the state’s FLFP rate to be far below India's average. The women's employment rate in Bihar was 6.4% and 3.9% respectively, compared to the all-India figures of 20.4% and 24.6%. Women have few options for employment after completing their education, which contributes to the low FLFP rate. According to the India Human Development Survey II, women with low levels of education and from rural areas are relatively more active in the labor market than women with middle or high school education.

As a result, it is crucial that the government increases employment opportunities for women and other needed beneficiaries. One way to do this is by filling up vacant positions in the health sector, police force, schools, and other government departments, where at least 35% of positions will be occupied by women. Women should have equal access to higher education at all institutions of higher learning, including private institutions. As part of the government's plan, all contract workers should be made permanent. In general, it refers to ensuring that marginalized groups and women have access to education and employment.

In 2006, Bihar became the first state to reserve 50% of seats in Panchayati Raj institutions for women. Several other states like Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat, and Chhattisgarh subsequently adopted the model. In the same year, a scheme for class nine and ten girls was launched called the Mukhyamantri Balika Cycle Yojana. For the first time in India, a conditional cash transfer programme was expanded to cover secondary education for girls. Following the implementation of this scheme, the number of female students increased.

The Union and other State governments should follow Bihar's lead and provide horizontal quotas to women and other needed beneficiaries in higher educational institutions and in State employment as these measures would help reduce gender disparities in India. A comprehensive educational reform at the grassroots level is urgently needed. For the entire system to function efficiently, there is a strong need for political will to balance justice for those who are behind, equity for those who are ahead, and efficiency for all.

This article has been written by Sharon John for The Paradigm

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