New Delhi: The government Monday introduced a key Constitution Amendment Bill in the Lok Sabha. The bill seeks to restore the states’ power to make their own OBC lists. Social Justice and Empowerment Minister Virendra Kumar introduced the Constitution (127th Amendment) Bill, 2021.
In the statement of objects and reasons, Kumar said in order to adequately clarify that the states and Union Territories (UTs) are empowered to prepare and maintain their own lists of SEBCs (Socially and Educationally Backward Classes) and with a view to maintain the federal structure of India, there is a need to amend Article 342A and make consequential amendments in articles 338B and 366 of the Constitution.
Most Opposition members, including those from the Congress, have supported the politically sensitive bill as it touches on the interests of the numerically-strong Other Backward Classes (OBCs).
“The government is going to introduce the Constitution amendment bill in Parliament. All leaders of various parties will support this bill and we want this bill being introduced today (Monday) to be passed immediately after a discussion on it,” Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge told reporters.
Opposition members, who have been in the Well of the House throughout the session to register their protest over the Pegasus snooping issue, went back to their seats when the minister introduced the bill.
Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury of the Congress, TR Baalu of the DMK and Ritesh Pandey of the BSP voiced their support to the proposed legislation even as they objected to the manner in which the government has been pushing forth with its legislative agenda amid the din.
Chowdhury said had the government listened to the Opposition members earlier, the states’ rights would have remained protected.
The ruling BJP has issued a whip to its MPs in the Rajya Sabha, asking them to ensure their presence in the House in the next two days, when the bill may be introduced and taken up for passage in the Upper House of Parliament.
The 102nd Constitution Amendment Act of 2018 inserted articles 338B, which deals with the structure, duties and powers of the National Commission for Backward Classes, and 342A that deals with the powers of the president to notify a particular caste as an SEBC and the power of Parliament to change the list. Article 366 (26C) defines SEBCs.
The Supreme Court has dismissed the Centre’s plea seeking a review of its May 5 majority verdict that held that the 102nd Constitution amendment took away the states’ power to notify SEBCs for the grant of quota in jobs and admissions.
Opposition parties had then accused the Centre of assaulting the federal structure by taking away the power of the states to identify and list the OBCs.
However, Kumar told the Rajya Sabha last month that the government is in consultation with legal experts and the Ministry of Law and examining ways to protect the power of the states in determining the state lists of OBCs.
A five-judge Constitution bench of the Supreme Court, headed by Justice Ashok Bhushan, had unanimously set aside May 5 a Maharashtra law granting quota to Marathas and refused to refer the 1992 Mandal verdict that put a 50-per cent cap on reservation to a larger bench.