Parliament passes amendment Bill on OBC list

Parliament passes constitution amendment Bill on OBC list

The debate was dominated by demands for the Caste Census and the removal of 50% cap

Parliament of India. Credit: PTI Photo

The Bill to amend the Constitution to empower states to identify Other Backward Classes (OBCs) on Wednesday crossed the Parliament hurdle with the Rajya Sabha passing it unanimously even as around a dozen parties demanded caste census and removing the 50% cap imposed on quota regime.

The Bill, which was cleared by Lok Sabha on Tuesday, was passed 187-0 after nearly five-and-half hour-long debate during which demands for bringing private sector under the quota regime and reservation for OBCs in Parliament and Assemblies were also made.

Replying to the debate, Social Justice and Empowerment Minister Virendra Kumar said it was a historic day as all parties unanimously passed the Bill.

"The government understands the sentiment behind asking for removing the 50% cap and we will study that. This cap was put 30 years ago," he said.

Referring to demand for Caste Census, Kumar did not directly answer whether the government would go ahead but said the Census 2011 did not have OBC data. However separately in a written reply, the Minister said on Friday that there are no plans for caste census at present.

The debate was dominated by demands for the Caste Census and the removal of 50% cap, including from NDA allies like JD(U) and AIADMK.

At least 10 parties -- Congress, Trinamool Congress, BJD, DMK, TRS, Samajwadi Party, JD(U), RJD, Muslim League and TDP -- demanded Caste Census while at least 13 parties -- Congress, BJD, DMK, TRS, CPI(M), CPI Samajwadi Party, RJD, Shiv Sena, AAP, JD(S), NCP and AIADMK -- demanded the removal of the 50% cap.

Criticising the government for the amendment in 2018 that led to an adverse ruling from the Supreme Court, the Opposition MPs said if the Modi dispensation had listened to the advice of MPs and Select Committee which had warned that it could face trouble, the situation would not have arisen.

Opening the debate, Congress MP Abhishek Singhvi said, "this brings us to an important issue -- a caste census. Why are you running away from a caste census? Your chief minister in Bihar, another chief minister in Odisha and your woman MP said you are going to do this. Why is the government keeping quiet today?" he asked.

Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge demanded quota in the private sector, saying the opportunities in the public sector is reducing following the government's policies. "Make preparations for bringing the private sector to provide quota to Dalits, OBCs and even economically deprived forward castes. Like we support you on this Bill, we will support in that too," he said.

Trinamool Congress floor leader Derek O'Brien said this Bill was necessitated due to the "incompetence" of the government though Opposition MPs had pointed the flaws in the 2018 Bill. "The best example is the GST legislation. We had warned them. So within 10 months of its implementation, they had to make 376 changes," he said.

BJP's Sushil Kumar Modi accused the Congress of not doing enough for deprived sections and said it was only the governments of which the Jan Sangh or the BJP was a part that actually worked for the uplift of the deprived sections. "No one else except (Prime Minister) Narendra Modi will work for the SCs, STs and OBCs," he said.

He said he wants to know why the Congress government did not set up a Backward Classes Commission under Article 340 of the Constitution and rejected the report of the Kaka Kalelkar Commission submitted in 1955.

Samajwadi Party's Ramgopal Yadav said the states will get the right to amend the list of OBCs with the new amendment. "You will reap out the maximum benefit of this amendment, only when 50 per cent cap on the reservation is removed," he said.