New Delhi: The Lok Sabha on Monday passed a constitutional amendment which introduces a National Commission for Socially and Educationally Backward Classes in the Constitution, despite opposition parties claiming certain clauses affected the federal structure of the country.
The National Commission for Backward Classes Bill 2017 to repeal the 1993 law was also passed.
This is the first step towards making the backward classes commission a constitutional body.
On 5 April, the Bharatiya Janata Party- led government introduced a constitutional amendment in Lok Sabha for bringing a new National Commission for Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (NCSEBC) under its purview.
The constitutional amendment will still need to be passed by the Rajya Sabha with two-thirds majority and receive ratifications from more than 50% state governments.
The amendment envisages a five-member panel with several duties, including investigating and monitoring matters regarding safeguards provided for the socially and educationally backward classes, inquiring into specific complaints regarding deprivation of rights and safeguards, advising on their socio-economic development, and submitting reports on the working of the safeguards.
The constitutional amendment also empowers the President to specify communities which would fall under backward class for states and union territories, in consultation with the concerned governor.
Minister for social justice and empowerment T.C. Gehlot assured the lower house that there would not be any violation of the state commission’s powers. None of the powers of the commission are going to be taken away or weakened in anyway, he said.
Opposition parties had opposed the power of the President to specify communities as backward classes.
Kalyan Banerjee of the Trinamool Congress opposed the clause which empowers the President to identify communities as backward classes. The power of the President is on consultation with the governor of the state.
“Time and again this government is trying to hit the federal structure of the Constitution," he added, also referring to the goods and services tax law.
Bhartruhari Mahtab, MP from the Biju Janata Dal also opposed the bill, not on the “issue of the reservation policy but because it goes against the federal character of the country". He said he was anxious that the power of the state governments to add a caste under backward classes would be taken away.
Mahtab also took up the issue of the timing of the new bill, in light of recent agitations by the Jats in Haryana and Patidars in Gujarat.
“Is it because there’s an agitation brewing in Haryana, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat? That is the political angle, that’s the hidden agenda. This bill doesn’t help those castes. Once this bill becomes a law, it will be very difficult to include Jats, Marathas, Patidars—it’s a very lengthy process. These agitations will get more aggravated. Allow state government to decide," Mahtab said.
Responding, Gehlot said that since the governor is advised by the state governments and the President by the Parliament, there would not be any exclusion of the states in the process of notifying backward classes. He added that the rules which the government will bring will clarify all issues in greater detail.
Asaduddin Owaisi, of All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul Muslimeen, sought inclusion of members of the Muslim community as backward classes based on empirical data that they are socially and educationally backward.