Parliament on Wednesday passed a constitutional amendment aimed at restoring the rights of the States and the Union Territories to maintain their own list of socially and educationally backward classes (SEBCs), commonly known as Other Backward Classes (OBCs).
The Constitution (One Hundred and Twenty-Seventh Amendment) Bill, 2021 was passed unanimously by the Rajya Sabha, a day after the Lok Sabha passed it . In a break from its protests on the Pegasus issue and farm laws, the Opposition joined the discussion and supported the Bill. While the Bill received support from across party lines, at least 10 parties, including NDA’s Janata Dal (United), called for a caste-based census and 12 parties demanded the removal of the 50% cap on reservation.
On May 5, the Supreme Court held that the Maratha reservation granted by the Maharashtra government was unconstitutional and that the President alone was empowered to identify SEBCs. In his response to the discussion on the Bill, Social Justice and Empowerment Minister Virendra Kumar said the government understood the concerns over the 50% cap and that it should be revisited as it was decided 30 years ago.
Parliament proceedings updates | August 11, 2021
From the Opposition, Congress leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi was the first speaker. He said the government was congratulating itself for correcting a mistake it made in 2018, referring to the 102 Constitutional Amendment that said the President, in consultation with the Governor, would notify SEBCs. The select committee had pointed out that the language of the Bill could be open to misinterpretation. This Bill was an empty promise since there was a cap of 50% on reservation and this cap couldn’t be changed till the caste census was done to reveal the actual numbers, he stated.
“Why are you running away from a caste census? Your Chief Minister in Bihar, another Chief Minister in Odisha and your woman MP said you are going to do this. Why is the government keeping quiet today” he asked.
Plea for caste census
The Samajwadi Party’s Ramgopal Yadav forcefully argued for a caste census. He said there was a speculation that the Yogi Adityanath government of Uttar Pradesh would delist Yadav, Gujarat and Kurmi from the backward list. The BJP government, he said, was not bringing in the caste census only so that it could amend the backward list as per its wishes. There was need to raise the 50% cap on reservation, he observed.
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The RJD’s Manoj K Jha said the speech by BJP’s lead speaker in the Lok Sabha Sanghamitra Maurya was no “Freudian slip”. “Every person who thinks for the welfare of the backward classes will make this demand,” he noted. The entire Bihar Assembly, he stressed, had sought time from Prime Minister Narendra Modi to urge him to bring caste census. “It is essential to know who are the ones who are forced to come to the cities looking for minor jobs? Who are the people who have to lift mud to earn a living.”
The TMC’s Derek O’Brien said the Bill was a result of incompetence of the government. “This government is not in the habit of listening to anyone. When legislation on GST was brought in, the Opposition had warned against the possible problems in its implementation. He added, “376 changes were made in GST!”
Shiv Sena member Sanjay Raut welcomed the Bill, but said it was incomplete, as the issue of 50% cap on reservation was not addressed.
The CPI’s Binoy Viswam said he supported the Bill, but opposed the “government’s politics”.
Former Prime Minister and JD(S) member H.D. Deve Gowda welcomed the Bill. He asked the government to see that reservation for women, which he had moved in his tenure, was provided.
Leader of the Opposition Mallikarjun Kharge also appreciated the Bill, but said it was unfortunate that the discussion in the House had been less about the Bill and more about “what Modi ji did and what Nehru ji did”, referring to attacks on the Congress by the treasury benches. “You must remove the 50% cap if you want to implement this. Just add one sentence that the States can give reservation over 50%. That will solve the problems,” he added.