25-09-2018-In wake of caste protests, PMO holds its first meeting on affirmative action in private sector

The Indian Express: September 25, 2018

With less than a year left in this government’s term, the Prime Minister’s Office has held its first ever meeting to discuss affirmative action in the private sector, The Indian Express has learnt. A top official who attended the meeting on September 22 said there were questions over the private sector’s commitment to provide jobs to SCs and STs. “The robustness in industry’s efforts is missing,” said the official.

The meeting comes in the wake of nationwide protests by several groups — Dalits, Jats, Marathas and upper-castes — over a range of issues: from quotas in jobs and promotions to alleged dilution of the law meant to protect Dalits.

Incidentally, it was under the UPA-I government, way back in October 2006, that a high-level coordination committee was constituted under the chairmanship of the Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister to discuss this subject. And until May 2014, seven meetings were held.

But the eighth meeting of the committee, the first under this government, chaired by Principal Secretary in the PMO, was held only on September 22. Sources said questions had been raised within the Government over this delay.

The committee, formally called Coordination Committee on Affirmative Action for SCs/STs in the Private Sector, includes heads of industry chambers.

Sources have confirmed to The Indian Express that at the Saturday meeting, a presentation was made by the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion on the progress made by Indian industry in areas of skill development, provision of scholarships and employment for SCs and STs.

While progress in skill training and scholarships has been “reasonable,” a top official said, there are gaps in data collection. “Sincerity of data is lacking,” the official said.

“The private sector is not so committed to the cause as one would like it to be.”
Officials present in the meeting told representatives of the industry chambers that the government had prepared a list of 22,000 villages where the percentage of SC/ ST population was high.

“They (the government officials) said that the private sector can adopt villages and work towards extending skill training and then provide jobs to the SCs and STs in these villages,” said a source who attended the meeting but did not wish to be identified.

Officials said the ministry of tribal affairs had received far too many applications for scholarships from STs. “It was suggested that private sector companies can contribute by providing scholarships to tribal students,” the source said. “Basically, the idea was to explore new ways to engage the private sector in affirmative action.”

Members of industry chambers CII, FICCI and ASSOCHAM provide data on scholarships, skills training and jobs provided, to SCs and STs, every quarter to the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion, which services the coordination committee.

The CII, for instance, has provided about 1.2 lakh jobs to SCs and STs over the last 10 years, the government was informed. Many member-companies of CII, Ficci and Assocham have also signed a Voluntary Code of Conduct on affirmative action which places emphasis on equal opportunities in employment for all sections of the society, removing bias in employment, and increasing employability of socially disadvantaged sections through skill upgradation, continuous training and scholarships.

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