Karan Thapar: In which case, lets ask a few basic questions; we are talking about the reservations for the OBCs in particular. Do you know what percentage of the Indian population is OBC? Mandal puts it at 52 per cent, the National Sample Survey Organisation at 32 per cent, the National Family and Health Survey at 29.8 per cent, which is the correct figure?
Arjun Singh: I think that should be decided by people who are more knowledgeable. But the point is that the OBCs form a fairly sizeable percentage of our population.
Karan Thapar: No doubt, but the reason why it is important to know 'what percentage' they form is that if you are going to have reservations for them, then you must know what percentage of the population they are, otherwise you don't know whether they are already adequately catered in higher educational institutions or not.
Arjun Singh: That is obvious - they are not.
Karan Thapar: Why is it obvious?
Arjun Singh: Obvious because it is something which we all see.
Karan Thapar: Except for the fact that the NSSO, which is a government appointed body, has actually in its research in 1999 - which is the most latest research shown - that 23.5 per cent of all university seats are already with the OBCs. And that is just 8.5 per cent less than what the NSSO believes is the OBC share of the population. So, for a difference of 8 per cent, would reservations be the right way of making up the difference?
Arjun Singh: I wouldn't like to go behind all this because, as I said, Parliament has taken a view and it has taken a decision, I am a servant of Parliament and I will only implement.
Karan Thapar: Absolutely, Parliament has taken a view, I grant it. But what people question is the simple fact - Is there a need for reservations? If you don't know what percentage of the country is OBC, and if furthermore, the NSSO is correct in pointing out that already 23.5 per cent of the college seats are with the OBC, then you don't have a case in terms of need.
Arjun Singh: College seats, I don't know.
Karan Thapar: According to the NSSO - which is a government appointed body - 23.5 per cent of the college seats are already with the OBCs.
Arjun Singh: What do you mean by college seats?
Karan Thapar: University seats, seats of higher education.
Arjun Singh: Well, I don't know I have not come across that far.
Karan Thapar: So, when critics say to you that you don't have a case for reservation in terms of need, what do you say to them?
Arjun Singh: I have said what I had to say and the point is that that is not an issue for us to now debate.
Karan Thapar: You mean the chapter is now closed?
Arjun Singh: The decision has been taken.
Karan Thapar: Regardless of whether there is a need or not, the decision is taken and it is a closed chapter.
Arjun Singh: So far as I can see, it is a closed chapter and that is why I have to implement what all Parliament has said.
Karan Thapar: Minister, it is not just in terms of 'need' that your critics question the decision to have reservation for OBCs in higher education. More importantly, they question whether reservations themselves are efficacious and can work.
For example, a study done by the IITs themselves shows that 50 per cent of the IIT seats for the SCs and STs remain vacant and for the remaining 50 per cent, 25 per cent are the candidates, who even after six years fail to get their degrees. So, clearly, in their case, reservations are not working.
Arjun Singh: I would only say that on this issue, it would not be correct to go by all these figures that have been paraded.
Karan Thapar: You mean the IIT figures themselves could be dubious?
Arjun Singh: Not dubious, but I think that is not the last word.
Karan Thapar: For seven weeks, they have been protesting in the hot sun. No minister has gone there to appease them, to alley their concerns, to express sympathy for them. Have politicians let the young people of India down?
Arjun Singh: Well, I myself called them. They all came in this very room.
Karan Thapar: But you are the only one.
Arjun Singh: You are accusing me only. No one else is being accused.
Karan Thapar: What about the Government of India? Has the Government of India failed to respond adequately?
Arjun Singh: From the Government of India also, the Defence Minister met them.
Karan Thapar: Only recently.
Arjun Singh: That is something because everyone was busy with the elections.
Karan Thapar: For seven weeks no one met them.
Arjun Singh: No, but we are very concerned. Certainly, all of us resent the kind of force that was used. I condemned it the very first day it happened