The Lok Sabha on Tuesday passed a Constitution amendment Bill that seeks to provide 10 per cent quota in jobs and educational institutions, including private-run higher educational institutions, to economically weaker sections from the general category.
Terming the measure a “poll gimmick”, Opposition parties said it was unlikely to pass judicial scrutiny and cautioned that the government breaching the Supreme Court-mandated 50 per cent cap on quotas would open a Pandora’s Box.
After the Bill's passage, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said his government’s endeavour was to ensure that every poor person, irrespective of their caste or creed, got to lead a life of dignity.
During the nearly five hour-long discussion, Opposition members said the Bill suffered from lacunae, that it was drafted in a hurry without consultations and unlikely to pass judicial scrutiny. They said the Modi government had failed to fulfill its promises on job creation and Rs 15 lakh in each bank account, and was now trying to mislead the youth.
Pointing to the P V Narasimha Rao government’s similar effort, Congress’ K V Thomas reminded the House that the Supreme Court had struck it down. Lok Janshakti Party chief Ram Vilas Paswan, a BJP ally, demanded an identical 60 per cent reservation be replicated in the private sector, and quotas in the judiciary. He advised the government to put the law in the ninth schedule of the Constitution to keep it beyond judicial challenge.
Speaking during the discussion in the House, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said nearly all political parties had supported such a measure at one time or the other. He rejected suggestions that the measure might not pass the legal muster of 50 per cent cap. Jaitley said the bar was for caste-based reservations, while the Bill sought quota for the economically weaker sections in the general category. He said the Constitution needed an amendment as it currently mentioned only social and educational backwardness as the criteria for quota.
In the afternoon, Union Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment Thaawarchand Gehlot introduced the Constitution (124th Amendment) Bill 2019 in the Lok Sabha. Later, replying to the discussion, Gehlot expressed confidence the Supreme Court would accept the proposed law.
The Lok Sabha passed the Bill with the requisite two-thirds of the members present and voting supporting the Bill, with 319 members voting in favour and four against. Apart from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its allies, the Congress and most other Opposition parties supported the Bill.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress President Rahul Gandhi were present in the House when it passed the Bill. The government will table the Bill in the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday. The Bill is unlikely to face any obstacle despite the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance lacking majority in the Rajya Sabha. Nearly all Opposition parties have said they would support it and unlikely to demand that it be referred to a select committee for further scrutiny.
In the Lok Sabha, All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) members staged a walk out, maintaining the Constitution did not envisage reservations based on economic backwardness.
AIADMK’s M Thambi Durai said the proposed law would cause corruption and confusion. He said Tamil Nadu had 69 per cent reservation for socially and educationally backward sections, and demanded 70 per cent reservation at the Centre.
Outside Parliament, Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati said her party supported the Bill, but called for a review of reservations currently given to Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes, or OBCs. She said quotas be given proportionate to the respective populations of the SCs, STs and OBCs.
Samajwadi Party’s Ram Gopal Yadav said now that the government had crossed the ‘Lakshman rekha’ of the Supreme Court-mandated 50 per cent cap on reservations, OBC reservation be increased to 54 per cent from the current 27 per cent.
The Bill seeks to amend Articles 15 and 16 of the Constitution.
It seeks to add clause (6) in Article 15 to enable the State to provide reservations for economically weaker sections, other than the SCs, STs and OBCs.
The Bill also seeks to provide reservation to economically weaker sections in private higher educational institutions, including unaided institutions, barring minority institutions.
Jaitley said the Bill, once passed by Parliament, would come into effect immediately and state assemblies would not be required to ratify it. In a series of tweets, BJP chief Amit Shah said the move would bring a "positive" change in society and is a lesson for parties doing appeasement politics.
While introducing the Bill, Gehlot said economically weaker sections had largely remained excluded from attending higher educational institutions and public employment on account of their financial incapacity to compete with the persons who were economically more privileged.
However, several political parties questioned the parameters the government had proposed to identify beneficiaries. "The economic criteria will not be the same as it is today. A family may progress or come down in the economic strata. How will you identify the person, the Bill doesn't mention these," Biju Janata Dal’s Bhartruhari Mahtab said.
"A person who is poor today may earn money and become rich. This is only going to increase corruption. People may pay bribe and get a certificate that he/she is poor,” AIADMK’s Thambi Durai said. Minister Gehlot said states would decide who would be considered 'poor' for this purpose. Brahmins, Thakurs, Baniyas, Patels and others who do not come under the existing reservation will be benefited, Gehlot said.
AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi said the Constitution did not recognise economic backwardness and the current exercise was a fraud since there is no empirical data and evidence. "This is a burden on states. May I know from the government that what will happen to Maratha reservation," he asked.
Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) chief M K Stalin accused the Modi government of having started a 'disastrous game' with backward classes and others. Stalin reminded the AIADMK government on the floor of the Tamil Nadu Assembly that the state had 69 per cent reservation, heralded by the late CM J Jayalalithaa.
Communist Party of India (Marxist) chief Sitaram Yechury said the Bill was the Modi government’s attempt to combine caste passions with communal polarisation for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. He said the Bill, after Parliament passes it, must go to the state assemblies before it can be notified. "It is an electoral ploy," he said.
"While we support reservations, this cannot be brought in abruptly without any consultations. Consultations are required because the criteria for beneficiaries, with an annual family income of Rs 8 lakh, will be depriving sections which require them the most," Yechury said.
The Congress, and its youth organisations, said the move was a gimmick since 93 per cent of households in India had annual incomes of less than Rs 2.5 lakh, while the Bill envisaged extending benefits to all who earned less than Rs 8 lakh.
Telangana Chief Minister and Telangana Rashtra Samithi President K Chandrasekhar Rao asked party MPs to seek amendments to the Bill to have 12 per cent reservation for backward Muslims and 10 per cent reservations for STs. The state Assembly had passed a resolution to this effect in 2017.
LJP's Ram Vilas Paswan demands 60% quota in private sector, judiciary
AIADMK's M Thambi Durai wants quota to be raised to 70%
TRS seeks 12% quota for Muslims, 10% for STs
BSP's Mayawati demands review of quotas for SC, ST and OBCs; wants in proportion of their population
SP's Ram Gopal Yadav demands OBC reservation be increased to 54%
INLD's Dushyant Chautala says govt should make caste census data public
*Includes demands made outside Lok Sabha as well