The real difference between Horizontal and Vertical quotas in India
I had asked the following quiz on Twitter yesterday :
Thanks to all those who responded. The real answer is not what you would expect and I hope to explain it in this post. You will be shocked.
The normal answer
Lets see what the usual answer to the question is because you need to understand what it is not to appreciate what it actually is.
The primary socio political organization in India is along the axis of the various Quota systems based on immutable (birth based) group identity. If you had say 100 seats – those are distributed in fixed quotas on basis of group membership identity. The most common groups you know are SC/ST/OBC but there are even more fine grained ones at the states. For example Andhra Pradesh has SC/ST/OBC-1/OBC-2/3/4/5. Karnataka has OBC-A,OBC-B,OBC-2A, etc. The key things to keep in mind in all these is
- each of these groups have fixed quota
- you cant be a member of more than one group
- not all citizens have a group ; those not in any group are called unreserved candidates
- all members with groups can participate in the open seats
Now, introduce a new factor that allows you to be a member of more than one group. Say “Women” (purely as an example). If the announced womens quota was 30% ; each of these boxes get subdivided into 30%-70%. Thus within the SC 15% quota seats ; there is a sub quota of 30% for SC women. That is to say 5% of SC-Women and 10% for SC-Open.Similarly the OBC group is split up, the Unreserved seats are split up and so forth. Since this appears “visually” to be horizontal – they call this a horizontal quota.
This is where the fun starts.
This is not what the horizontal quota is.
Horizontal quota is not merely a sub-quota within each group. It is a completely new quota system that works very differently. Lets dig deeper.
As it is with all “Idea of India” schemes you need a terminology reset. Let me introduce two new terms that more precisely describe quota system design. These terms are borrowed from the eminent sociologist and political scientist Marc Galanter.
- Minimum Guarantee System : Example -> OBC are guaranteed say 30% minimum
- Over and Above System : Example -> OBC are guaranteed 30% over and above whatever they get
Vertical quota is an Over and Above system. Horizontal Quota is a Minimum Guarantee system.
They look similar only on the surface. Lets see what is really going on under the hood with an illustration.
Vertical quota selection
Say you had a total of 100 seats and a Vertical Quota (VQ) group assigned 30%. You must do two rounds of assignment. In Round 1 – you set aside 70 seats corresponding to the unreserved quota; then allocate from a common merit list including VQ . Then you do a separate Round 2 – this time for 30 seats for which you only consider VQ candidates. This completes the process.
Horizontal quota selection
Say you had the same 100 seats but a Horizontal Quota (HQ) group assigned 30%. You first do one round of assignment. In Round 1 – instead of setting aside 70 seats you consider ALL 100 seats. Then you allocate from common merit list including HQ. Finish this process. Now take a long coffee break. Come back and look at the allocations. If there is a minimum of 30% HQ candidates in the final allocation. STOP THE PROCESS there is no need for Round 2. If there is a short fall, say only 20% HQ candidates against their quota of 30%, then start a new Round 2. In this Round 2 : start by knocking out the last ranked non-HQ candidate and replacing by a HQ candidate until the 30% is met. The Round 2 process ends at exactly 30%.
Whats the big deal yaar ? You may ask. In both systems the group is allowed to overshoot their quota. Look closer, the difference between the two system is like night and day. Merely mentioning a transition from a Over-And-Above scheme to a Minimum-Guarantee scheme will cause massive political upheaval of the kind we may have never seen.
What if we moved the OBC quota to a horizontal reservation scheme ?
Time for a little war gaming. Say a hypothetical future #core government announced that henceforth all OBC quotas will move from a vertical reservation to a horizontal scheme.
In states where the classification of OBC are questionable – this has the effect of cancelling the entire OBC quota year after year. To go back to our illustration. In TN, it is well known that OBC group takes 70-80% of the seats in the Open Category. In this scheme, the guaranteed-minimum is always met in Round 1. Therefore there will be no special Round 2 allocation. In other words, there is no OBC quota at all.
In effect, the guaranteed-minimum scheme a.k.a “Horizontal Quota” has a built in circuit breaker that prevents encroachment of the list. The only way to get an exclusive OBC quota would be to eject advanced castes classified into the OBC lists that represent well in unreserved category. That would have the effect of bearing down pressure to benefit the really backward components in that list.
With the current vertical quota system, there is no such pressure. This is the heart of the matter. About 50-70% of all Indian political activity is organized around these anomalies.
I have a great, sometimes unhealthy, interest in these kind of system design failures that constitute the nuts and bolts of the legal regime called “Idea of India”. Almost no one among hundreds of responses on my Twitter timeline got the distinction between horizontal and vertical quotas right. This is expected because these things are kept out of mainline debate by a compromised intellectual class in India. The funny thing is even state governments get this wrong. In K.R Santhi vs Teacher Recruitment Board (2012) the Tamilnadu govt made the error. In Rajesh Kumar Daria vs Rajasthan Public Service (2007) the Rajasthan Govt could not figure it out either.
I bet you never imagined there was so much hidden behind such a simple Quiz.
C’mon admit it 🙂 🙂