A key bill to provide constitutional status to the National Commission for Backward Classes(NCBC) secured Parliament's approval on Monday with the Rajya Sabha approving the measure that will give the panel full powers to safeguard the rights and interests of the Other Backward Classes(OBCs).
The Constitution (123rd Amendment) Bill 2017 was passed after a spirited debate during which several members urged the Centre to make public the findings of the caste census and implement reservation accordingly. It was passed by the Lok Sabha on August 2 superseding the amendments earlier carried out by the Rajya Sabha.
The bill was passed after the House repealed the National Commission for Backward Classes Act, 1993.
The NCBC, a statutory body created in 1993, was given limited powers only to recommend to the government inclusion or exclusion of a community in the central list of OBCs. Also, the power to hear complaints of the OBCs and protect their interests remained with the National Commission for Scheduled Castes.
The Upper House adopted the legislation along with the amendments made by the Lok Sabha, by 156 votes to nil. Over two-thirds majority of those present voted in favour of the bill, which is a necessity for amending the Constitution.
The Rajya Sabha earlier passed the measure on July 31 last year, along with an amendment and sent it to the Lower House. The Lok Sabha passed the bill last week with alternate amendments as well as some more changes unanimously with over two-thirds majority.
Replying to the debate, Social Justice and Empowerment Minister Thaawarchand Gehlot said the bill would help the backward classes people fight atrocities against them and ensure quick justice to them. "This bill would provide justice to the OBC people, it is the need of the hour," he added,
The bill seeks to bring the NCBC on par with the National Commission for Scheduled Castes and the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes.
BJP President Amit Shah hailed the passage of the bill in Parliament as historic and said it fulfilled a long pending demand of the OBCs.
"It is a historic legislation that underlines the Modi government's commitment to bring the backward sections to the front row of the country's development," Shah told reporters.
In his reply, Gehlot also assured members that the legislation would not encroach upon the rights of state governments as they would have their own backward class commissions. "This commission has no relation with the state governments but is related to the Centre only."
He said the state governments had their own lists of castes of OBC people, while the Centre had its own. The NCBC would recommend only to the central government regarding inclusion or deletion of a particular caste in the list.
"This is an important issue. There was a demand for a constitutional status to the OBC Commission from the 1980s and Parliament had held discussions several times. It has been discussed by the Standing Committee," Gehlot said, urging the members to pass the bill expeditiously.
He said once the bill is passed by Parliament, the government would immediately form the Commission.
Participating in the debate, Bhupender Yadav (BJP) urged political parties to shun "vote bank politics" and support these measures.
He said the Bill is long overdue and lamented that many states have not implemented 27 per cent reservation to the OBCs, adding that parties should "rise above vote bank politics and work towards social justice".
Chaya Verma (Cong) sought reservation in Parliament and Assemblies for the OBCs.
Narendra Jadhav (Nominated) demanded that the findings of the socio-economic caste census be made public. He said the Rohini Commission report and the census data should be compared to prepare fresh data of the OBCs.
Ram Kumar Kashyap (INLD) said there should be a bill for reservation in legislature for the OBCs.
Ashok Sidharth (BSP) alleged that the motive behind the government to bring the Bill now was to woo the electorate in the upcoming assembly elections. Assembly polls are due in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chattisgarh.
Manoj Kumar Jha (RJD) hoped the bill will create a level-playing field, while B Prakash (TRS) said no serious efforts were being made for a caste-based census.
T K Rangarajan (CPI-M) said mere Acts will not do as they did not percolate down to the grassroot level, as recent data showed that only 7 out of 100 teachers in the Central Universities belonged to SC/ST and OBC categories.
Sambhaji Chhatrapati (Nominated) demanded that Marathas be included in the OBC list to get equal opportunity in jobs.
Ram Gopal Yadav (SP) said the government should come out with the caste-based census and implement the reservations accordingly. He demanded that the reservation be also extended to the judiciary.
While A Navaneethakrishnan (AIDMK) sought removal of creamy layer from the OBC list, Ahamed Hassan (AITC) said the bill unduly interfered with the affairs of the state governments.
Vijila Sathyananth (AIADMK) drew attention towards skewed representation of the OBCs in various committees, commissions, boards and other different fora of government.
Ram Chandra Prasad Singh (BJP) demanded another such bill for highly backward classes, while Sanjay Raut (Shiv Sena) said "we have to eliminate caste system to strengthen the country's political system."
Union minister Ramdas Athawale (RPI-A) favoured more quotas for the backward classes.