National Commission For Backward Classes Gets Constitutional Status, Rajya Sabha Unanimously Passes The Bill
Rajya Sabha has passed the 123rd Constitutional Amendment Bill, which grants constitutional status to the National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC) on August 6, 2018.
Although the bill was first passed by Lok Sabha on April 10, 2017, the Rajya Sabha had sent it back with proposed amendments. However, Lok Sabha passed the bill again on August 2, 2018, superseding the amendments proposed by Rajya Sabha.
On August 6, the bill was passed unanimously by the Upper House despite apprehensions by the opposition, with 156 votes to nil. Over a two-thirds majority of those present in the Parliament voted in favour of the bill, which led to the amendment in the Constitution.
What is the Commission about?
The NCBC is now a constitutional body under the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment. It was established initially as a statutory body in August 1993.
According to the Scroll, the body was authorised to decide on the inclusion or exclusion of the citizens as socially and educationally backward class. It could also hear complaints regarding over or under inclusion of any backward class in their list.
The Commission, having achieved Constitutional status, now has more powers towards handling reservation and other safeguards for the backward classes. The body has also gained the powers of a civil court for investigating matters. The Central, as well as State governments, will have to consult the Commission when handling policy matters regarding the backward classes.
In addition to this, the NCBC is also responsible for the improvement in the socio-economic status of the backward classes and to monitor their growth at both Central and State level.
The struggle to pass the bill
The bill was introduced by Minister of Social Justice and Empowerment, Thaawarchand Gehlot on April 5, 2017. During the debate over the bill in the Rajya Sabha on July 31, the opposition proposed amendments to clause 3 of the bill, regarding the appointment of all members from other backward classes – including a female candidate and a minority community member.
As the government was reluctant to pass the bill with the amendment in clause 3, the Rajya Sabha passed the bill without the clause at all. This sent the bill back to Lok Sabha to start the entire process a new.
Finally, on August 2, 2018, the Constitutional Amendment was passed, rejecting the previous amendment to clause 3, sending the bill again to the Rajya Sabha, where it was passed unanimously on August 6.
The debate over the bill
One of the primary concerns of the opposition was that the Commission would have the right to interfere with the state government’s and their backward class commissions. However, according to the Times of India, the Social Justice and Empowerment Minister Thawarchand Gehlot has reassured that the Commission will not encroach upon the rights of state governments. The NCBC can only recommend inclusion or exclusion of caste in their list to the central government.
Another point of debate was the inclusion of a female member and a member of the minority community in the Commission. Minister Gehlot confirmed the female representation in the Commission but informed that the demand for the minority member was not accepted as this was an issue of backwardness, not religion.
The political scenario
During the debate over the bill, many opposition parties accused the ruling party of indulging in “vote-bank” politics in preparation for the 2019 General Elections. BJP countered with the reasons why the bill was essential for the upliftment of the Other Backward Classes and how the UPA government during its previous two terms had failed to pass the bill.
Terming it a historic move, BJP chief Amit Shah said, “Prime Minister Narendra Modi has provided justice to the backward community, which was deprived of developments for decades, with this legislation.”
Ashok Sidharth of the BSP however, alleged that the motive behind the government to bring the bill now was to woo the electorate in the ensuing general elections, as reported by the Economic Times.
Chaya Verma of Congress sought reservation in the Parliament for OBCs, while D Raja of CPI believed there was no point in a Commission with no binding recommendations to the government. He said, “NITI Aayog is promoting public-private partnership and privatisation of public sector undertakings. Where is the scope of reservation? The commission should not be devised to hoodwink people.”
What lies ahead?
According to the Mint, the passing of this bill will potentially cement the votes of the backward class communities, which make up 52% of the population of India- the single largest block of voters in our country. What remains to be seen is the extent to which the bill shall benefit the backward communities in our country, and whether or not this move was just a political ploy to get the voters’ support from these communities.