Quota bill passed in Lok Sabha with near unanimous vote

Lok Sabha has passed a constitution amendment bill for 10% reservation for economically backward upper castes with 323 in favour, 3 against

Gyan Varma, Anuja
Updated8 Jan 2019
All eyes are now on Rajya Sabha which will take up the quota bill tomorrow, the last day of the winter session of parliament. Photo: Mint
All eyes are now on Rajya Sabha which will take up the quota bill tomorrow, the last day of the winter session of parliament. Photo: Mint

New Delhi: The Lok Sabha approved a constitution amendment bill to grant 10% reservation for economically weaker sections on the last day of the winter session in the lower house. The government had moved the quota bill on Tuesday amid opposition calls for greater scrutiny of the proposed law. With almost all the key opposition parties supporting the quota bill in principle, it was cleared by the lower house with 323 votes in favour out of the 326 members present. Three members voted against the bill.

The government has extended the Rajya Sabha by a day to allow passage of the quota bill that aims to set reservations in government jobs and education for economically weaker sections in the general category, including upper castes.

All eyes are now set on the upper house where the government is in a minority and where it will have to depend on the support of opposition parties for the quota bill, titled the Constitution (one hundred and twenty-fourth amendment) Bill, 2019. The demand of opposition parties, particularly the Congress and Left parties, for greater scrutiny of the piece of legislation could be a cause of worry for the government.

On Tuesday, the case of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) was spearheaded by finance minister Arun Jaitley who said the quota bill was a test for all political parties who had made similar promises in their manifesto.

“There have been attempts made in the past to provide reservation to economically weaker sections in general category but all attempts failed because the effort was not made through the right channel. This bill is a test for Congress and other political parties whether their support for the bill is limited for manifesto or it will get reflected in parliament,” Jaitley said.

Although the quota bill drew support from the main opposition parties, some of the key points they raised included: the demand that it be referred to a joint parliamentary committee (JPC); extension of benefits to other categories including the judiciary; the logic behind fixing 10% for quotas; and a demand for the findings of the caste census to be made public.

Blaming the government for acting in haste, the Congress said the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), having recently lost three assembly elections, had hurriedly introduced the bill hoping it would help the party win the upcoming general elections.

“The Congress has always supported the decision to provide affirmative action for economically weaker sections in general category. But we want the bill to be sent to a joint parliamentary committee. The aim of the government in bringing this bill is the upcoming polls because BJP lost three elections recently,” said K.V. Thomas, senior leader of the Congress.

Among other senior leaders, union food minister Ram Vilas Paswan asked the government to include the provision in the ninth schedule to avoid a legal challenge whereas Bhratruhari Mahtab of the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) demanded that a clause be included to revisit the criteria of economic deprivation.

While the NDA has a comfortable majority in the lower house of parliament, it will need the support of opposition parties to get the bill voted through in the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday. The government needs the support of at least two-thirds of the members of the both the houses respectively to pass the bill.

The NDA has a total of 96 Members of Parliament (MPs) in the Rajya Sabha and will need the support of least 163 of the 245 MPs in the upper house. The government is banking on the support of the Congress which has 50 MPs and the Samajwadi Party (SP) which has 13 MPs in the upper house. Both the parties supported the bill in Lok Sabha.

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