Reality Check India

The real difference between Horizontal and Vertical quotas in India

Posted in Uncategorized by realitycheck on May 3, 2016

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.


New terminology

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 🙂 🙂



21 Responses

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  1. Srinivas said, on May 3, 2016 at 2:42 am

    Can you explain this further?

    “The only way to get an exclusive OBC quota would be to eject advanced castes that represent well in unreserved category. That would have the effect of bearing pressure to benefit the really backward components in that list.”

    What do you mean by eject advanced castes in unreserved category?

    • White Rice Vellasamy said, on May 3, 2016 at 3:56 am

      I’d like to take a stab at this RC if not to explain just to test my self.

      Say there are 100 seats and just two OBCs: OBC1 extremely well off and OBC2 extremely poor and you have to have minimum 30 seats for OBCs.

      In TN it is typical to see OBCs dominate even merit lists (70-80% as mentioned), so lets say for example they have 50 seats in the merit list. In this horizontal quota example there will no round two. It will end.

      Now let us check between the 2 OBCs. Lets assume OBC1 (the well off kind) have 45 and OBC2 (not so well off) 5. It is clear that OBC1 do not need reservation as they dominate the merit list without any quota whatsoever and OBC2 representation is poor ergo we need to move OBC1 out of the quota list and continue the HQ with just OBC2 to improve their situation.

  2. K V Sarma J said, on May 3, 2016 at 6:05 am

    A few questions:

    1) Is HQ in effect? If so in which states?

    In AP, many times seats reserved for caste groups do not get filled up. In the past, they were opened up for unreserved, sometimes part of the seats were left to colleges to fill with high price (management quota, NRI quota etc). If today HQ is in place, then there should be multiple rounds to make sure x% (in your example 30%) is achieved for the specific caste group

    2) I dont see a circuit breaker in HQ.

    If anything I see that HQ enables govt to allot more than allocated % to specific caste groups. This would happen when round1 gives more than x% (in your example 30%) to specific caste group. If not, round 2 makes sure they hit allocated %. VQ at least places a hard boundary which is inviolable.

    3) Is HQ challengeable?

    I dont think so. Constitutional guarantee doesnt mandate minimum % but only species x%. So, how can IOI twist the meaning by using an additional qualifier like “minimum”? Is the word “minimum” specified in consti? Could you point me the article?

    • realitycheck said, on May 5, 2016 at 2:00 am

      I dont think any vacancies are available in any category in South. Especially not in OBC category for high profile goods like Medical Edu.

      Circuit breaker is available . Pls read my post carefully. If OBC category is encroached by forward castes, the result is NO QUOTA.

      You can do HQ or VQ. A future #core govt could shake things up and jolt everyone by announcing shift to HQ. My illustration was to show how such small nuances you might miss – are actually where the #IOI batles are.

  3. pilidlao said, on May 3, 2016 at 6:13 pm

    I am going to start over with a hypothetical and pose questions. Correct me if/where my assumptions or reasoning is wrong.

    Let us say OBC quota (I will call it OBC) (which would be VQ) = 30%, SC quota (call it SC) (also VQ) = 20%. Women’s quota (call it W) (which would be HQ) = 30%. Let us call unreserved seats U. Now assume total seats T = 100. So, OBC = 30 seats; SC = 20; therefore, U = 100 – 30 – 20 = 50. As for women’s quotas within this division, W(OBC) = 30% of 30 = 9. W(SC) = 30% of 20 = 6. W(U) = 30% of 50 = 15. W = W(U) + W(OBC) + W(SC) = 15 + 9 + 6 = 30. So far so good.

    Then comes the tricky part. For the VQ, you have two rounds of assignment as per your post. So, in the first round, 50 seats are set aside for unreserved (U) and assigned from common merit list. Then, in a round 2, OBC and SC quotas are assigned.

    1. Now arises the question. Does the minimum guarantee for women(W) work for the whole or for each group within the whole? Let us say, after round 2, you have 13 women in unreserved, 7 women in OBC and 10 women in SC. In that case, total women = 13 + 7 + 10 = 30, so the minimum guarantee is met *as a whole* but within the first two groups, it is *less* than 30% (13 < 15 for U, 7 < 9 for OBC). So, what happens then? Do two men each get knocked off unreserved and OBC groups to be replaced by women then or because the total has been met, assignment is left alone?

    2. I am interested to learn what vertical impact horizontal reservations would have. If the answer cannot be a definite number, then a maximum impact as well as an impact range would be important to calculate how much the total quantum could exceed the ceiling (e.g., 50%) by. If the response to the previous question is that HQ operates only for the whole and not by part, then it follows that higher the W(U) component, lower is the unreserved component and vice versa. Thus, maximum would be reached when W = W(U), viz., there are no women OBC/SC in which case, all 30 women would be in the unreserved category. So total unreserved would really be only 100 – 50 – 30 = 20%! So factoring in HQ, the quantum of reserved seats would be between 50-80%. Do you agree? OTOH, if it is done group wise, you would have a set figure of 15% (as a minimum guarantee) for W(U). So, total reserved seats would really be 50 + 15 = 65% or rather, unreserved seats would be 35%.

    In either case, it might be worth evaluating whether there is an argument that the ceiling, in case of interlocking quotas exceeds 50%.

    3. You are right that shifting from VQ to HQ would cost groups seats and would be politically unpalatable. The opposite is viable but I cannot conceive of an instance where such a shift might be expected.

    • realitycheck said, on May 4, 2016 at 3:43 am

      Now arises the question. Does the minimum guarantee for women(W) work for the whole or for each group within the whole?

      1. Each group must have 30% W (the HQ).I think this would answer most of the other questions. Because if it were the other way that would mean transfer of 30% of the SC seats to open category women.

      I think the easier way to analyze the VQ/HQ quota mechanics is step back and forget about the SC/ST/OBC/Open. Just assume a total 100 and a quota of 30%. How would that 30% look if it were a VQ 30% versus a HQ 30%.

      The SC/ST/quotas are actually separate universes in themselves. The so called Open-Category is also a separate Universe where all can participate. So the entire capacity is first split by a VQ and then within each VQ by a HQ (Women, Physical Disabled, Economic,etc)

      Now there is no reason things have to be this way. It is completely within the realm of possibility that you can have the total quota split by HQ and then within each HQ split further by HQ. Just consider this for a sec and see how that world would look like.

      Assume the same formula you have mentioned by use HQ instead of VQ. The 20:30:50 split. Now in Round 1 we pretend there is no quota at all and do the allocation. Assume the result is 25:35:40 – that is the natural assignment results in SC and OBC meeting the guaranteed minimum. The story ends right there. There is not quota system at all. Notice the open cat does not have guaranteed min so thats okay.

      What if the natural split is 10:40:50 ? That is SC shortfall is 10 short of min guarantee and OBC overshot by 10 and Open is 50. Now we need a round 2. At that point you start knocking out the OBC and Gen category candidates & substitute by SC. If at any point of this ‘knock off’ the OBC min guarantee is breached, you spare that candidate and knock out the next higher ranked Gen category(without a min guarantee). See ? Its an entirely new universe unlocked.

      2. I think the answer to number (1) should take care of this. A HQ of 30% Women applies to each VQ of SC/OBC/Gen – so first the VQ alloc is made. Then each category is examined for split. Say there is a shortfall of 1 Women in SC group. Then a higher ranked SC Male is knocked out and replaced by a SC Female. If there is a surplus of 1 Women in SC Group. You leave it alone. (Remember HQ is Min Guarantee so Women can overshoot but not Male) THIS is the real reason they are doing 30% for Women instead of the more obvious 50% – if you do 50% you enforce by a law a permanent majority of females in all allocations.

      The theoretical maxima of VQ is 0% to unreserved category. This is a far from a fantasy. This is what is happening in Tamilnadu. There are no PG Medical Students in the Top-2 Medical Colleges in 2015-16 who are from the unreserved category. But that is a discussion for another day. My contention is having a VQ when the Input is already shaped by an earlier round of VQ ought to be declared unconstitutional. These multi level quotas have the effect of completely squeezing out the groups that are in unreserved category. Grave situation. This is where the Gujarat 10% qouta comes in. It is essentially giving a quota to upper castes – so the VQ system continues to be viable. Unfortunately I am yet to come across a court judgement that is reasoning to the depth we are talking about here. Tragic .

  4. munusamy ganapathy (@ganpat73) said, on May 4, 2016 at 4:19 am

    For medical colleges in TN ,due to SC judgement the method advocated by reality check is followed patially.A list is prepared imagining that the quota is 50% instead of 69% and all those from OC who would have got seats if reservation was at 50% are given seats by creating additional seats.

    We have exservicemen,quota,physically challenged quota,martyrs quota,all india quota etc.Will this method be advised for them and if few ESM wards children get seats on their own ,the ESM quota be discarded?

    The quota fixed is basic minimum and not maximum as reality check wants us to beleive.Any group whcih feels deprived and can show data on underrepresentation for a period has all rights to get into the reservation pool whether its brahmins or jats or patels.Data is still obscenely in favour of those who are not falling under castes getting quota

    • realitycheck said, on May 5, 2016 at 2:05 am

      Please show where I am wrong. You need to be specific.

      The TN jugaad does not work here because we are discussing things at a higher plane. We are talking about how General Rules are working. The best way to tear the curtain is to ask you back : If the TN Juaggaad (court formula due to Voice Consumer Care case) was equivalent to 50% quota then why not simply do the 50% quota? Why push back , why do the 9th Schedule ? This is how the tequiyyahs fall out.

      Not so sure Data is so obscenely in favour of upper castes – when there are ZERO upper caste PG Medicos in Top 2 Medical colleges.

  5. pilidlao said, on May 4, 2016 at 2:56 pm

    Thank you for the response. I realize there are a few basic things to understand first. Maybe you have already explained it in an earlier post but I do not recollect it.

    The way I thought it worked before reading your blog regarding the operation of VQ went something like this: if a reserved candidate can get the branch of his choice through the unreserved category, he gets to take it. If he cannot get it through the unreserved category, then he can take it through the reserved category if that is available. So, both reserved and unreserved categories can be filled in one round of counseling itself.

    But with two rounds, as I understand it, the reserved list operates independent of the unreserved. Am I right? So suppose an OBC candidate wants computer science but cannot get it through the unreserved category, what happens then? Does he have to sit out Round 1 of counseling and take his chance at round 2 for the reserved category alone? Or does he opt for a lower branch in the unreserved list, wait for round 2 and if he gets something better there, drop his earlier preference?

  6. realitycheck said, on May 5, 2016 at 1:51 am

    The explanation in this article assumes that all the selections HQ or VQ are made for a single cadre or a single discipline. Think of it as MBBS admissions rather than AIIMS vs KK Medical. This is a necessary simplification because I wanted to illustrate the HQ vs VQ mechanics.

    So the 2 Stage process above would work without mods if say you had one exam (JEE) for IIT Computer Science & 2 VQ rounds. First round for 50% open – then another round for each VQ group to give them the over & above seats.

    Once we get that distinction, we can add in the complicating factors. What if the selectees are not just In vs Out but use one quota process for a large number of different types of seats. For example : One JEE used to allocate between IIT Comp Sc vs IIT Metallurgy.

    Each of the disciplines must be in Quota shape in India. So if a OBC candidate got selected on Round 1 of VQ allocation – but didnt do well enough to get Comp Sc. Instead was allocated Metallurgy. If he had been selected in Round 2 (Over and Above) of VQ he would have got Comp Sc.

    This is the Most Hairy issue – called the MRC (Meritorious Reserved Candidates) what to do with them ? That involves a Round 3 In my view – the Courts are COMPLETELY trapped and have it utterly wrong. (See Ramesh Ram case )

    Topic for another post perhaps 🙂

  7. LakshmanPST said, on May 5, 2016 at 8:06 am

    You once mentioned that you would write an article on Teachers’ admissions in Govt. schools if time permits… Waiting for it…

  8. […] remove all the non OBC students and voila you have a OBC Merit List. This will be used to fill the Vertical Quotas for OBCs in all state and central medical colleges.   Similarly for SC/ST/OBC-1/OBC-2A/ what not. […]

  9. […] remove all the non OBC students and voila you have a OBC Merit List. This will be used to fill the Vertical Quotas for OBCs in all state and central medical colleges.   Similarly for SC/ST/OBC-1/OBC-2A/ what not. […]

  10. […] quota device used in India is called Vertical Quota. Also known as the over and above scheme (thanks to Marc Galanter for this […]

  11. Suchindranath Aiyer (@Suchindranath) said, on June 23, 2016 at 2:24 pm

    It is the season. My servants are here begging for money to pay their children’s school fees. It costs Rs. 18,000 per child in a Government School. This is what the parents earn in three months or more! (If they convert to Constitutionally protected and prospered Christianity, they would get better quality education, free for their children)

    My Maternal Grand Father went to a Government School (Fort High School) Bangalore. Like all Government Schools in Maharjaas’ Mysore, it was free. He topped the ICS examination. (He opted instead for the Mysore Civil Service when his Highness came on horseback to request my Great Grand Father “Controller” Subba Raya Aiyer, who had been sent by Travancore for his integrity and competence to sort out the Mysore Treasury which had been in a mess).

    My Paternal Grand Father studied free at a Veda Pathashala in Bethelegundu (on the Highlands near Madurai). He topped the Madras Matriculation and the Jesuit Principal of St Joseph’s College Tirchinopoly begged his father to send him to study free, and recommended him to Her Majesty’s Secretary of State in London for appointment to the Indian Service of Engineers. His first salary of eight gold sovereigns exceeded the combined fortune of his native village. He could be and was generous to a large number of ungrateful, vicious, persons belonging to communities currently Constitutionally certified to be congenitally backward.

    India is 135 out of 172 countries in Human and Social Development and 143 out of 172 countries in Internal Peace and Stability. This is the result of a vicious Constitution and polity that has waged relentless war on integrity, merit and competence.

    Sir. M. Vishweshwaraya has been proved more than right by the villainous, sadistic, anti National rulers of the Republic of India.

    The idea of reservations was implemented by the British since 1921 as part of a comprehensive “Divide to rule” Policy. Ambedkar enlarged it to loot the resources of the Nation and apply them to exclusive benefit of his own community. Nehru blessed it just as he did so many other divisive policies such as partition because it helped him to capture and retain power to abuse and misuse as per his perversions.

    No ideal state can be achieved when founded on trash. Rose trees do not bloom from Parthanium roots. Mysore is a classic example of what can happen when founded on ideals and what happens when those same ideals are destroyed. Mysore had universal primary and secondary education with health care and nutrition and NO reservations. Gandhi called it “Rama Rajya” though His Highness Krishna Raja Wadeyar preferred to call it “Camelot”.

    When the British pushed “reservations” as part o their divide and rule policy into Mysore through the Maharaja, the Diwan, Sir M. Vishweshwaraya who has done more for ALL the people of Mysore than any man save Sir Mark Cubbon, resigned.

    The words in his resignation letter were as prophetic in its way as Sir Winston’s prognosis for India. “Only the very best competence and integrity can help raise the wretched of the earth to the status of human beings. There is no short cut. You cannot elevate the wretched and expect them to do the work that the most talented and competent find arduous” Today Mysore has been more thoroughly trashed than any other state of the Indian Union because there was so much more to trash.

    India is a Constitutional Hypocracy, With inequality under law and exceptions to the rule of law, it is neither secular nor a democracy.

    • Orient Views said, on May 23, 2017 at 2:51 am

      /** No ideal state can be achieved when founded on trash **/

      The ideal state is an illusion.. there has to be owner.. in your case, the owner is maharaja, who cares for the welfare of his rajyam..

      1947 was just a great game, making the stupid anglicised people to believe that they got independance.. from the background, the colonial forces played a dirty game of destroying all native rulers, by allowing scoundrels (INC) to be rulers of the country..

      If india were to be a real Union of States, it should have been the union of princely states. The rajya sabha should have been sabha of rajas..

      this issue is very complex.. we cannot do reduction to fit a single reasoning or ideology..

  12. Behram J.D. said, on June 25, 2016 at 1:15 am

    Spot on…but who’s listing.

  13. internet tricks said, on July 31, 2016 at 12:12 am

    completely agree with the author, informative

  14. vipul said, on April 30, 2017 at 8:23 am

    so if the number of seats available for open category horizontal quota doesn’t get fulfilled with that particular hq candidates then will that saets will get fulfilled by open category candidates only or from merit list of all candidates

  15. […] OVER and ABOVE what they win in the Open seats. I have explained in The real difference between Vertical and Horizontal Quotas in India that the Over and Above system is called the “Vertical Quota” and the Minimum […]

  16. […] another form of reservation comes into play: The Horizontal Reservation, or The Over and Above System. It extends to Persons with Disabilities, Ex-servicemen and their […]

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