The Bihar Assembly on November 9 unanimously passed a Bill to increase reservation for Backward Classes, Extremely Backward Classes, Scheduled Castes, and Scheduled Tribes from the existing 50% to 65%. Chief Minister Nitish Kumar assured House members that his government would implement the provisions of the Bill as soon as possible.
Together with the 10% Economically Backward Class (EWS) quota, the Bill will push reservation in Bihar to 75%, well past the 50% ceiling set by the Supreme Court.
According to the legislation, named the Bihar Reservation Amendment Bill, quota for Extremely Backward Class (EBC) will be raised from the existing 18% to 25%; for Backward Class (BC) from 12% to 18%; for Scheduled Caste (SC) from 16% to 20%; and for Scheduled Tribe (ST), the quota will be doubled, from 1% to 2%. The existing 3% reservation for BC women has been scrapped.
Bills providing for the same increase in reservation in educational institutions and government jobs, which were drafted based on the caste survey conducted by the State government recently, too were passed unanimously through voice vote in the Assembly. The amended Bill will now be sent to the Governor for his assent before it becomes a law.
During the debate on the Bill, Opposition BJP legislators asked the government for some clarifications over the 10% EWS reservation. “Though our party supports the raise in reservation, we also want to know if the government has included the 10% EWS reservation in the 35% khuli gunagun koti [Open Merit Category] bracket?” asked Arun Shankar Prasad, the BJP’s Khajauli MLA. Senior State BJP leader Nand Kishore Yadav too stood up seeking an clarification.
Responding to them, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Vijay Kumar Choudhary said, “Yes, the 10% EWS reservation quota has been included in the 35% Open Merit Category. The Bihar government has proposed to raise reservation only for BC, EBC, SC, and ST communities.”
Mr. Kumar had proposed the amendment to raise reservations on November 7, hours after it was tabled in the State Assembly and on the same day, it was approved by the State Cabinet. The caste survey report released on October 2 said EBCs comprise 36% and BCs 27.1% of the State’s 13.1 crore population. Together the two caste groups account for nearly 63% of the population.
“If need be, there could be a raise in this reservation as well and I’ll be happy for this,” said Mr. Kumar while adding, “My government will implement the raise in quota as soon as possible.” “If special status is given by the Centre to Bihar, the State will excel even further,” Mr. Kumar repeatedly said during the debate.
When a BJP legislator raised a question over the financial burden the government has to bear to implement the increase in quota, Mr. Kumar said, “The State government has to spend over ₹2.5 lakh crore to implement it but if the BJP legislators push for special status, Bihar will excel and develop even more”.
The Opposition BJP which initially supported the raise in reservation, along with eight other political parties in the State, later criticised it on several grounds, including that it will “disturb social harmony in the society”. But the party has hinted at a change in stance with Union Home Minister Amit Shah declaring a few days ago that the BJP “remains open to the idea of a nationwide caste census but it should be done with due diligence”. State BJP president Samrat Choudhary said on November 9, “The BJP has always extended support to any party when it is for reservation.”
“In the present political scenario, how can a political party afford to oppose the raise in reservation for backward and oppressed classes?” asked political expert and former professor of Social Science at Patna University, Nawal Kishore Choudhary. “Following this caste survey, the ‘Mandal politics’ is bound to return and it [caste survey] will have far-reaching impact on the economy, society, and polity of not only Bihar but the entire country,” he added.