Parliament passes bill on OBC panel’s constitutional status

New Delhi: The Rajya Sabha on Monday unanimously passed the Constitution (One Hundred and Twenty-third Amendment) Bill as passed by the Lok Sabha to give a constitutional status to the National Commission for Backward Classes.

Earlier, the upper House had made some amendments to the bill passed by the Lok Sabha and sent it back to the lower House of Parliament. The Lok Sabha, in a rare gesture, adopted the “amendment alternative to the amendment made by the Rajya Sabha” and passed the bill.

The bill seeks to grant NCBC the constitutional status on a par with the National Commission for Scheduled Castes and the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes.

Replying to the debate on the bill in the Rajya Sabha, Social Justice and Empowerment Minister Thaawar Chand Gehlot assured the members that the provision for having a woman member on the National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC) would be made while formulating the Rules under the new law.

The Minister, however, ruled out the possibility of mandatorily having at least one member from the minority communities as the NCBC member, saying there was no provision of religion-based reservation in the Constitution of India.

Gehlot also clarified that the NCBC would not undermine the autonomy of the states and the state OBC commissions.

“The list of the Scheduled Castes (SC) is the same for the Centre and the states. But the states can have their separate lists of OBC castes. And if a state likes any caste to be included in the central OBC list, it will have to write to the NCBC, which may include that caste after following the due process,” Gehlot said.

The bill also seeks to provide the NCBC the authority to examine complaints and welfare measures regarding socially and educationally backward classes.

He said that the NCBC would have the same powers as the SC and ST commissions.

The bill is seen as a push by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to consolidate its support among the OBCs ahead of the state elections this year and the Lok Sabha elections next year.

The party is expected to highlight its efforts to get the bill passed in its election campaigns in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, where OBCs form a large chunk of population. It is also likely to raise the issue strongly during Lok Sabha election campaigning.

During the debate, the BJP members who spoke on the bill accused the opposition Congress of not caring for the interests of the OBCs.

Gehlot said that the Modi government has taken a “bold decision” to set up a panel for sub-categorisation of backward classes and will act swiftly on getting the report.

“The categorisation will be done actively to undo the injustice done to them,” he said.

(Photo Source: The Hindu)