The 117th constitutional amendment for reservation in promotions for SC/STs was passed in the Rajya Sabha on Monday, despite stiff opposition from the Samajwadi Party (SP), which tried to disrupt proceedings in both Houses.
The Bill will now go to the Lok Sabha, which has to ratify it for the legislation to become a law. While the government has not set a time frame for the Bill to be introduced in the Lower House, it witnessed unruly scenes on Monday with SP MPs protesting the Bill rushing to the well of the House. This led to the Lok Sabha being adjourned for the day.
The quota Bill was passed with 206 votes in favour and only 10 voting against it. But a few changes were incorporated. The government agreed to the Opposition demand to keep intact the “efficiency” clause while paving the way for reservation in government job promotions for SC/STs. The government also assured the House that those who had been promoted before 1995 would not be affected by the implementation of the law.
Although the UPA on its own did not have the numbers in the Upper House to see the amendment through, the support of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Left and all parties barring the SP and the Shiv Sena ensured the Bill was passed. Being a constitutional amendment, the government needed a majority of not less than two-thirds of the members of the House “present and voting”, which in any circumstance could not be less than 122 MPs or half the strength of the 243-member House.
The BJP pledged its support to the Bill after incorporating specific changes — that the principle of efficiency as enunciated under Article 335 of the Constitution cannot be overlooked. Leader of the Opposition Arun Jaitley had during the debate on Friday made it clear that while the BJP was in favour of affirmative action for SCs and STs, the government cannot alter the basic structure of the Constitution; otherwise, it would run the risk of being struck down by the courts.
The government also agreed to the other demand that those promoted before 1995 will not be affected by the implementation of the new law.
In the Rajya Sabha, Ramgopal Yadav, senior SP leader, attempted to put the government on the mat, demanding a quota for Muslims on similar lines. He justified the demand, saying the Sachar Committee report had established the community’s backwardness.
The UPA had been left with little option but to ensure that it got the quota Bill passed in Parliament after the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) publicly accused the government of stalling it. BSP supremo Mayawati had last week attacked the Chair and the government in the Rajya Sabha over the issue.
To assuage her concerns, the Bill was prioritised by the government and taken up for discussion and voting.
While the SP had walked out during the crucial foreign direct investment vote in Parliament, the BSP had voted in favour of the government, thus bailing it out. Now, it was payback time.