Two years back, on 13th November 2015, Hon’ble MP Shri Ninong Ering introduced the Constitution (Scheduled Tribes) Order (Amendment) Bill, 2015 in the Lok Sabha. The Private Member’s Bill seeks to amend the Constitution (Scheduled Tribes) Order so as to include the tribes ‘Tangsa’, ‘Nocte’, ‘Tutcha’, ‘Wancho’ and ‘Yobin’ in the list of Scheduled Tribes in respect of the State of Arunachal Pradesh. The journey of this Bill towards enactment of meaningful legislation highlights the special place occupied by Private Members’ Bills in the legislative process of the Indian Parliament, as shall be delved into, below.
Success Story of the Constitution (Scheduled Tribes) Order (Amendment) Bill, 2015
Hon’ble MP Shri Ninong Ering began the process of dialogue on the inclusion of the five tribes (namely ‘Tangsa’, ‘Nocte’, ‘Tutcha’, ‘Wangchoo’ and ‘Yobin’) in the list of Scheduled Tribes in respect of the state of Arunachal Pradesh, on 11th July 2014 itself by raising the matter under Rule 377 of the Lok Sabha. Rule 377 can be invoked by a member to bring to the notice of the House a matter which is not a point order and cannot be raised under the Rules relating to questions, short notice questions, calling attention, motions, etc., with the permission of the Speaker. Accordingly, this parliamentary device was used to bring to the notice of the Hon’ble Minister of Tribal Affairs, the need for the recognition of the five tribes.
On 13th November 2015, the Constitution (Scheduled Tribes) Order (Amendment) Bill, 2015 was introduced in the Lok Sabha. The Statement of Objects and Reasons clearly lays out the need for the recognition of the tribes – ‘Tangsa’, ‘Nocte’, ‘Tutcha’, ‘Wangchoo’ and ‘Yobin’, through an amendment to the Constitution (Scheduled Tribes) Order, in accordance with Article 366(25) read with Article 342 of the Constitution. The five tribes known as other Naga tribes do not have any identity in the Constitution and therefore, do not enjoy the benefits of reservation as applicable to other Scheduled Tribes. Accordingly, the objective of this Bill is to recognize and list these tribes as Scheduled Tribes in respect of Arunachal Pradesh. The Bill also contains a Financial Memorandum providing for additional recurring expenditure from the Consolidated Fund of India, which would be incurred if the Bill were to be enacted. This expenditure would be on account of benefits to be provided to the persons belonging to these tribes under ongoing schemes meant for the development and welfare of the Scheduled Tribes.
The Bill was not taken up for further discussion in the Lok Sabha, as is the fate of many Private Members’ Bills. But Hon’ble MP Shri Ering continued to push for engagement on the issue. On 5th June 2018, he met Hon’ble Minister for Tribal Affairs Shri Jual Oram at his residence office in New Delhi and submitted a memorandum regarding the inclusion of ‘Tangsa’, ‘Nocte’, ‘Tutcha’, ‘Wangchoo’ and ‘Yobin’tribes in the list of Scheduled Tribes of the State of Arunachal Pradesh.
Thereafter, Shri Ering has repeatedly raised Unstarred Questions in the Lok Sabha to elicit written responses from the Government. On 23rd July 2018, 30th July 2018 and 17th December 2018, the Hon’ble MP has raised Unstarred Questions titled ‘Inclusion of Tribes in ST List’, ‘ST List of Arunachal Pradesh’ and ‘Inclusion of Yobin, Tutsa, Nocte, Tangsa and Wanchoo in ST List’ respectively. These questions have made it imperative for the government to release information regarding the status of an amendment to the list of Scheduled Tribes.
The continued efforts of the private member in tracking the progress of the government in legislating on the subject matter have finally culminated in the Cabinet approval for the Constitution (Scheduled Tribes) Order (Amendment) Bill, 2018 for revision in the list of Scheduled Tribes of Arunachal Pradesh. The 2018 Bill, inter alia, provides for the inclusion of ‘Nocte’, ‘Tangsa’, ‘Tutsa’, ‘Wancho’in lieu of ‘Any Naga Tribes’ in list of Scheduled Tribes of Arunachal Pradesh. After the Bill becomes an Act, members of the newly listed communities will be able to derive benefits meant for STs under the existing schemes of the Government and will also be entitled to reservation in services and admission to educational institutions as per Government policy. Further, with regard to the ‘Yobin’ tribe, an advisory has been issued by the Ministry of Tribal Affairs to the State of Arunachal Pradesh to extend benefits and issue caste certificates to the tribe or to any other indigenous tribe.
What is a Private Member’s Bill?
Legislative proposals in the Parliament can be brought before either house in the form of Bills. Bills may be of two types – Government Bills and Private Members’ Bills. Government Bills are those Bills that are initiated by a Minister, whereas Private Members’ Bills are those that are initiated by any Member other than a Minister. Such members may be MPs belonging to the opposition but may also be government ‘back-benchers’, i.e.., MPs from the ruling party or alliance who are not appointed as Ministers.
A Private Member’s Bill may be introduced in either House of the Parliament after giving notice of one month. After the introduction, it may be placed before a Parliamentary Committee (Committee on Private Members’ Bills and Resolutions in case of Lok Sabha and Business Advisory Committee in case of Rajya Sabha) for further examination and allocation of time for discussion. In both the Houses, a specific time is set aside for transaction of Private Members’ Legislative Business. The last two and a half hours of sitting on every alternate Friday are generally allotted for this purpose. The list of Private Members’ Bills to be taken up for consideration during a Parliament Session is determined by ballot. Thereafter, the legislative procedure to be followed is similar to that of a Government Bill.
The significance of Private Members’ Bills
Private Members comprise the majority of Parliament membership and the Private Members’ Bills introduced outnumber Government Bills. In the 16th Lok Sabha, for instance, of the 1350 Bills introduced so far, 1087 were Private Member Bills while only 262 were Government Bills. Yet, hardly any Private Members’ Bills are eventually enacted into law. Since independence, only 14 Private Members’ Bills have been passed by the Parliament and the last such Bill was enacted in 1970. This statistic may lead a layperson to underestimate the merit of Private Members’Bills but such a conclusion does not take into account the nuances of the parliamentary legislative process. For any Bill to be passed, the support of the majority of the House is required. Thus, the Government, which enjoys the support of the majority and can enforce the same with a party whip, has the bulk of the power when it comes to legislating. The overwhelming rate of enactment of Government Bills as compared to Private Members’ Bills can be attributed to this majority support and does not reflect the quality or content of the Bills themselves.
Despite the stacked odds against enactment, Private Members have continued to show an avid interest in initiating legislative proposals. In fact, the introduction of Private Members’ Bills has even become a metric to gauge the participation of MPs in Parliament, alongside attendance and raising of questions. This is because of the lingering value of the Private Member’s Bill as a legislative tool. Primarily, they serve the very useful purpose of drawing the attention of the Government to the desirability of legislation in a certain field or matter. A compelling instance of this in recent years is the Rights of Transgender Persons Bill, 2014, which was introduced by a Private Member and was even passed by the Rajya Sabha. It ultimately compelled the Government to table its own competing, albeit controversial, Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2016 on the subject. Private Members’ Bills can be used by MPs to address neglected matters that may be of particular importance to their constituency or a specific section of the population. Examples include The Special Financial Assistance to the Backward and Drought Affected Regions of Vidarbha and Marathwada Bill, 2016, the High Court of Orissa (Establishment of a Permanent Bench at Balasore) Bill, 2017, The Coconut Growers (Welfare) Bill, 2014, and many more. In this light, Private Members’ Bills can be seen as an instrument of representative democracy, giving voice to needs overlooked by the majority. In other cases, the Bills may be forward-looking, dealing with matters that have fallen through the gaps of public discourse. Such Bills include the Menstruation Benefits Bill, 2017, The Fluoride Contamination (Prevention) Bill, 2017, The Reorganization of Time Zones Bill, 2017, and others. The mere act of tabling a Bill in Parliament can garner media attention and generate awareness about issues not previously in the limelight.
Herein, the role of the private member cannot be underemphasized. Not only does the enormous responsibility of drafting the Bill and initiating the legislative process rest upon the MP, but he/she also has to take up the task of persistent engagement with the Government, both within and outside of the Parliament. It is this constant effort by the MP that can ultimately press upon the Government to legislate on the subject matter at hand.
In conclusion, the path traversed by this Bill clearly illustrates that a Private Member’s Bill can be quite effective in prompting the Government to legislate on pressing matters of public importance, especially if there is concerted action on the part of the responsible MP.
About the author: Abhishek Ranjan is a Research & Policy Analyst and a former LAMP Fellow. He drafted The Constitution (Scheduled Tribes) Order (Amendment) Bill, 2015)
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