Rajya Sabha passes quota bill but Oppn asks why the haste
The legislation to provide 10% reservation in jobs and education for the economically weaker section, including upper castes, got Parliament’s approval on Wednesday even as leaders from Opposition parties questioned the Union government’s “haste” in pushing the bill through just months ahead of the 2019 general elections.
From its introduction in the Lok Sabha to the final approval in Rajya Sabha, the 124th amendment to the Constitution was cleared in two days.
As compared to the Lower House, where the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) enjoys a big majority, the nine-hour-long debate in Rajya Sabha on Wednesday witnessed a sharper Opposition onslaught on the government over issues such as the timing of the bill, its constitutional validity, the government’s alleged inability to create jobs, and issues related to its implementation. Some leaders asked for the bill to be first sent to a select committee, while others also demanded that the government bring in the pending women’s reservation bill.
The bill, however, was passed with a 165-7 count in the Upper House of the 172 members present and voting. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress voted in favour, with the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), the Dravid Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) voting against it. In the Lok Sabha on Tuesday, the bill was passed with 323 “ayes” and just three “noes”.
Shortly after the bill was passed, Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted: “Passage of The Constitution (One Hundred And Twenty-Fourth Amendment) Bill, 2019 in both Houses of Parliament is a victory for social justice. It ensures a wider canvas for our Yuva Shakti to showcase their prowess and contribute towards India’s transformation.” Speaking in Rajya Sabha, senior Congress leader Kapil Sibal accused the government of bringing the bill at a time when more jobs were being lost than created in the country.
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“Who are you bringing in reservation for if we are not creating jobs? Jobs will come with economic growth. If you growing at 7.2%, you are not creating jobs,” Sibal said.
He also maintained that the 10% reservation would create jobs for only 4,500 people from the economically weaker section annually. “India has a population of 1.3 billion. You have brought a bill to benefit 4,500 people. That’s what you are amending the Constitution for?” He based the figure on his claim that the government created only 45,000 jobs annually in the last five years.
“Investment is flying out of country… Jobs are being reduced, who are you trying to fool, what’s the purpose of this amendment,” Sibal added, asking the government if it had collected any data before bringing the bill to Parliament and expressed apprehension that the bill could face enormous constitutional hurdles and also big problems in implementation. He said a nine-judge bench of the Supreme Court had struck down 10% reservation for the economically backward category in the Indira Swahney case in the 1990s, calling it unconstitutional. Law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad countered Sibal by saying that the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government sat on a panel report on reservation for economically backward classes.
Prasad said the UPA government sat on the 2010 Sinho Commission report on reservation for economically backward classes. “What stopped the Congress from implementing it?… You did no work for five years and are questioning us now. Maan liya hum late aaye, par durust aaye (Agreed we came in late, but we did the right thing)... Parliament is making history today and this will be discussed even 25 years later. Today is the day of change,” Prasad said.
Congress leader Anand Sharma also questioned the bill’s timing and said that it was aimed at political gains in the general elections: “What took you four years and seven months to bring the bill in the last session before the election? It has been brought by a government that is in the departure lounge of an airport,” Sharma alleged.
He asked that the session be extended by one more day and the government bring in the women’s reservation bill.