OBC Bill passed in Lok Sabha with rare House unity

Updated on Aug 11, 2021 01:54 AM IST

Many parties, including those in Opposition as well as Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) allies, demanded that the current 50% cap on reservations should be lifted.

A view of the Lok Sabha during the Monsoon Session of Parliament, in New Delhi on Tuesday. (PTI)
A view of the Lok Sabha during the Monsoon Session of Parliament, in New Delhi on Tuesday. (PTI)
By, Hindustan Times, New Delhi

For the first time in the ongoing monsoon session of Parliament, a piece of legislation was tabled and passed unanimously without disruptions on Tuesday as the Lok Sabha approved the 127th Constitution Amendment bill to restore the right of states to identify and provide reservation benefits to other backward castes (OBC).

The entire House supported the bill and debated for more than six hours even as furious protests continued in Rajya Sabha over the controversial farm laws. While 385 members voted for the bill, no one opposed it.

Many parties, including those in Opposition as well as Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) allies, demanded that the current 50% cap on reservations should be lifted.

Many leaders such as Janata Dal (United) MP Lalan Singh, Samajwadi Party’s Akhilesh Yadav, Bahujan Samaj Party’s Ritesh Pandey and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’s T R Baalu also demanded a caste census be conducted throughout the country.

Social justice and empowerment minister Virendra Kumar, who replaced Thawarchand Gehlot a month ago, described the bill as a “historic legislation” that would benefit 671 castes in the country.

He said the bill will restore the states’ rights to prepare their own lists of OBCs so that various communities can be given social and economic justice.”I am grateful to all the members of the Lok Sabha for strengthening the federal structure of India,” he tweeted.

On May 5, while scrapping a separate quota for the Maratha community in Maharashtra, the Supreme Court had ruled that after a 2018 amendment in the Constitution, only the central government could notify socially and educationally backward classes (SEBCs) – not the states.

This interpretation effectively struck a blow to the authority of state governments in identifying backward classes and provide them with reservation benefits. The new bill effectively bypasses the Supreme Court’s decision.

The Centre’s position has all along been that the President’s powers in identifying and categorising SEBCs is restricted to the central list.

BJP’s first speaker on the bill, Sanghmitra Maurya, pitched for caste census and lauded the government for deciding in its support. Her speech left many BJP members confused as the ruling party has so far not accepted growing Opposition demand for a caste census.

Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury extended his party’s full support to the bill but criticised the government for the 2018 amendment, saying the situation could have been averted had the government listened to the Opposition.

“You tweaked the Constitution by bringing the 102 Constitution Amendment Bill in 2018 which gave people opportunity to go to the court and finally the Supreme Court removed the states’ power,” he said.

Chowdhury and some Opposition leaders also slammed the government for not debating the Pegasus snooping controversy.

“We support this bill but our demand is to remove 50% ceiling (in reservation). You should listen to states, make it legal for states to cross the 50 per cent ceiling,” Chowdhury said. The 50% cap is the result of a landmark 1992 Supreme Court verdict and the top court refused to tinker with it earlier this year.

DMK’s Baalu and SP’s Yadav also demanded the removal of 50% ceiling. Labour and employment minister Bhupender Yadav asserted that the Narendra Modi government took many measures quickly to ensure justice for Dalits, OBCs and the poor.

Hitting out at the Congress, Yadav said the Constitution makers had made a provision for reservation for backward classes, but when the Congress came to power in 1950, it ruled for 40 years but did not give justice to the backward classes.

“When for the first time a non-Congress government came to power, the Mandal Commission was created. It had submitted its report in 1980 and you (the Congress) ran the government after that but did not implement it and did not give reservation to backward classes,” Yadav said.

NCP’s Supriya Sure (NCP) said the credit for this amendment bill should be given to the Maharashtra government which requested the Centre to do address the issue of OBC reservation. She also advocated for removing the 50% ceiling. YSR Congress and Shiv Sena also voiced their support for the bill.

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