On Tuesday, the Lok Sabha approved the 127th Constitution Amendment Bill, which restores the right of states and UTs to identify and provide reservation benefits to other backward castes (OBC). It was the first piece of legislation to be tabled and passed unanimously without disruptions during the ongoing monsoon session of the parliament.
The bill was backed by the whole House and discussed for more than seven hours, despite angry protests in the Rajya Sabha over the controversial agriculture regulations. No one voted against the measure and 386 members voted in favour.
Many parties, including those in the opposition and the BJP supporters, asked that the existing 50 percent reservation ceiling be removed.
JD (U) MP Lalan Singh, Samajwadi Party leader Akhilesh Yadav, BSP leader Ritesh Pandey, and DMK leader T.R. Baalu, have called for a nationwide caste census.
The Minister of Social justice and Empowerment, Virendra Kumar, who took over from Thawarchand Gehlot a month ago, said that the law is a “historic legislation” that will help the country’s 671 castes.
He said the bill will restore the states’ rights to prepare their 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 eliminating a special quota for the Maratha community in Maharashtra, the Supreme Court held that after a 2018 amendment to the Constitution, only the central government – not the states – may announce socially and educationally backward classes (SEBCs). This significantly undermined the power of state governments in defining backward groups and providing reservation advantages to them. The new measure essentially circumvents the apex court’s ruling. The Centre has always maintained that the President’s powers in recognising and categorising SEBCs are limited to the central list.
Sanghmitra Maurya, the BJP’s first speaker on the bill, advocated for a caste census and praised the government for agreeing to support it. Many BJP members were perplexed by her remarks given that the ruling party had so far refused to endorse the Opposition’s rising demand for a caste census.
Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury expressed his party’s complete support for the law but chastised the government for the 2018 modification, claiming that the issue might have been avoided had the administration listened to the Opposition. “You tweaked the Constitution by bringing the 102nd Constitution Amendment Bill in 2018 which gave people the opportunity to go to the court and finally the Supreme Court removed the states’ power,” he said. Chowdhury and other Opposition leaders also chastised the administration for failing to address the Pegasus snooping scandal.
Chowdhury further said, “We support this bill, but our demand is to remove 50 percent ceiling [in reservation].” He added, “You should listen to states, make it legal for states to cross the 50 percent ceiling.” The 50 percent restriction is the consequence of a historic SC decision in 1992, which the High Court declined to change earlier this year.
Akhilesh Yadav and the DMK’s Baalu both requested that the 50 percent ceiling be removed. Labour and employment minister Bhupender Yadav stated that the Narendra Modi government has acted fast in order to guarantee justice for the Dalits, OBCs, and the economically poor. Yadav slammed the Congress, claiming that although the Constitution’s makers included a provision for the reservation of backward classes, the Congress ruled for 40 years without providing justice to them.
“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.
He further asserted that the government is fully committed to ensure justice for the poor, Dalits and backwards. “This bill seeks to fulfil the basic aim and spirit of our constitution makers to build a country in which people get social, economic and political justice on the basis of equality,” Yadav added.
N.K. Premchandra of the Revolutionary Socialist Party stated that the Opposition had constantly told the government that their law would be construed by the courts in the manner that it was. He said that the new bill was required as the Centre did not listen.
Participating in the discussion, Supriya Sule of the NCP stated that the Maharashtra government should be given credit for this amendment bill since it urged the Centre to solve the problem of OBCs’ reservation. Sule reiterated that another significant problem that must be addressed in conjunction with this law is the 50 percent reservation cap without which, the amendment would not entirely remedy the issue.
The bill has also received support from the YSR Congress Party and the Shiv Sena.