The proposed Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC), a flagship anti-discrimination panel promised by the Congress in its manifesto, is back on track after being stuck in an inter-ministerial turf war.
A draft Equal Opportunities Commission Bill, prepared by the minority affairs ministry and cleared by the law ministry, gives the EOC mandate to address discrimination, not just against minorities but other disadvantaged groups, if required.
Moreover, the private sector will come under its ambit. These were the two crucial provisions that were sticking points so far.The EOC will also have powers of a civil court to penalise those practising discrimination in both government and private sectors, such as jobs, education and housing.
A group of ministers (GoM), tasked with overseeing its creation, had wanted the commission’s jurisdiction restricted to just minorities and the private sector kept out of its scope.
However, according to experts, without these two crucial mandates, the EOC would be a shadow of what it was intended to be. Several multi-ethnic western countries, including the US, have powerful EOCs to promote, among other things, workplace diversity.
“The draft legislation mandates the EOC to probe discrimination against minorities and all other deprived groups as may be notified by the government as well as the private sector,” an official requesting anonymity, said.
The EOC was recommended by the Sachar Committee, which probed the disadvantages faced by the Muslims, the largest minority. “The intention was to have an EOC that would cater to all deprived sections, not minorities alone,” Rajinder Sachar told HT.
Experts say it is important that the EOC covers the private sector as its capacity to offer employment will only increase as Indian economy grows while government employment is expected to shrink.
The equality commission will set up best practices codes and equality benchmarks for all levels of the government and the private sector and ensure these are adhered to.