Tatas ready for caste quota in private sector

By Subodh Ghildiyal in New Delhi
Monday, 29 November , 2004, 08:17

Tata industries has agreed to back caste-based reservations in the
private sector. The move has the potential to jolt the Industry,
which is hostile to the Union Government's promise for affirmative
action outside the public sector.
In a communique sent to Union Social Justice and Empowerment Minister
Meira Kumar, Chairman of the Tata conglomerate, Ratan Tata, has
informed his readiness to back the Government initiative for
upliftment of the SC/STs and other underprivileged social segments
through affirmative action in the private sector. Discuss:
Reservation in private sector will hurt Indian Inc's profits

Tata group is preparing its own plan on the shape that affirmative
action can take. Corporate sources said the decision of the Tatas to
draft their own proposal points to the possibility of the business
house settling for voluntary action over Government legislation.

The Tata-Government dialogue began after Kumar addressed Indian
Merchants' Chamber in Mumbai on September 21, initiating what the UPA
has called a National Dialogue to evolve a consensus on the issue.

Tata wrote, "Tata group certainly understands the social
responsibility that all Industry should carry to bring social justice
to SC/ST and other minority or underprivileged sections of our
community. We would happily support your initiative."

He promised to revert to the Government with some 'finite proposals'
on what he can do 'to support your initiatives'.

Following correspondence with the Ministry, Tata wrote another letter
on October 4, reiterating his commitment to affirmative action and
drafting of a plan that would back the Government initiatives.

Tata is the second business house after Videocon to give a nod to
affirmative action and the first one to commit itself in black and
white. Rest of the industry has voiced concerns on the issue.

In its fresh bid, Government has recently dispatched a letter to as
many as 71 chambers of commerce and business bodies, stressing on its
need for such affirmative action for SC/ST and also sought their
views on how they thought the same could be carried out.

The significance of Tata's letter to Kumar can be gauged from the
fact that the Group of Ministers formed to hold a dialogue with the
Industry has discussed them.

Sources in the GoM, headed by Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, said
they plan to turn around the hostility among private employers by
telling them that if the 'Tatas could agree to affirmative action,
then the argument that caste quota would compromise merit was
baseless'. The GoM has planned to meet in December again.

If the Tatas' view is any indication, the Government may be veering
towards a compromise where Industry voluntarily accepts to give
representation to the marginalised sections of society and Government
can do away with the thought of a legislation.

The Prime Minister has on several occasions announced that the caste
quota will not be imposed on private sector. The Government left the
door for a compromise ajar when Kumar told the Indian Merchants'
chamber that, "I would really stress that if industry and business
can, on its own initiative, come forward and consciously make an
effort to employ those amongst the marginalised groups who are
qualified and eligible, we would not even need to discuss the issue
of legislation for reservation any further."

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