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Siddaramaiah’s concerns are compounded by the possibility of the state’s powers of notifying even backward classes list being taken away. File photo: Mint
Siddaramaiah’s concerns are compounded by the possibility of the state’s powers of notifying even backward classes list being taken away. File photo: Mint

Siddaramaiah raises concerns about states losing powers in safeguarding interest of backward classes

The Constitution (one hundred and twenty third amendment) Bill seeks to centralise the functions relating to safeguarding interest of socially and educationally backward classes in the hands of the Union thus usurping the powers of states: Siddaramaiah

Bengaluru: Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah on Wednesday shot off a letter to Bhupender Yadav, member of Parliament and chairman of the select committee looking into the Constitution (one hundred and twenty third amendment) Bill 2017, raising concerns that with the bill in its current form, the Centre would “usurp" the powers of state governments.

Heading into assembly elections next year, Siddaramaiah’s concerns are compounded by the possibility of the state’s powers of notifying even backward classes list being taken away. Only the President of India can notify Scheduled Castes/Tribes.

“The Bill seeks to centralise the functions relating to safeguarding the interest of socially and educationally backward classes (SEBC) in the hands of the Union, thus usurping the powers of the state governments. This is wholly unacceptable to the states, as this strikes at the root of federalism," Siddaramaiah stated in his letter.

The Bill was passed in Lok Sabha on 10 April but referred to a select committee by the Rajya Sabha the following day and is expected to be submitted in the monsoon session of Parliament.

The bill would require states to send their demands for inclusions in the other backward classes (OBC) list to the National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC), who then, may or may not, forward them to the Union government.

“Article 338-B (9) makes it mandatory for every State government to consult NCBC on all major policy matters concerning the SEBC’s. This provision places undue restrictions on the policy making capabilities of the state government. The state governments are fully autonomous in making policy and programmes for the welfare and development of the SEBS’s. There should be no need for the state government to consult the NCBS on matters which are clearly in the domain of the state government," Siddaramaiah said.

Although Siddaramaiah and many other opposition party members in Parliament had welcomed the granting of constitutional status to the NCBC earlier in April, they have strongly expressed reservations on the provisions of the bill.

Siddaramaiah came to power in 2013 with the AHINDA (acronym for minorities, backward classes and dalits) support base, making it harder for the chief minister to part with OBC list inclusion rights as proposed in the proposed bill.

The Congress government in Karnataka carried out a census titled social and educational survey in 2015 which is yet to be released. Leaked findings of this report-whose authenticity has been officially denied by the government-nearly halve the number of powerful Lingayats and Vokkaligas, believed to be the two largest communities in the state. The findings also place Dalits as one of the biggest communities in the state which would help the chief minister to increase reservations from 50% to 72%-an effort analysts say would strengthen Siddaramiah’s AHINDA support base.

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