Quota bill clears Parliament hurdle

The bill to amend the Constitution to provide 10% quota for economically weaker sections (EWS) cleared the Parliament hurdle on Wednesday night with an overwhelming support in the Rajya Sabha, even as the Opposition described the Narendra Modi government's move as one "aimed at 2019 elections".

The bill, which provides for 10% quota in state and central government jobs as well as in higher educational institutions, including in the private sector, was passed after a marathon discussion spanning over eight hours with a two-third majority.

A total of 165 MPs belonging to the BJP and the Opposition Congress, Trinamool Congress, Samajawadi Party and BSP among others supported the move and seven MPs opposed it. While AIADMK, CPI and AAP walked out, DMK, RJD and Muslim League MPs voted against the Bill.

The Constitution (124th Amendment) Bill was passed in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday with only three MPs voting against it while 323 supported it, a day after the Union Cabinet cleared the proposed law.

After the bill gets the President's assent, the government will have to come out with a notification giving details about the criteria and other details for availing the benefit.

The demand by parties like the DMK, CPI(M), CPI, RJD and the TDP to send the bill to a select committee for further parliamentary scrutiny was also negated, exposing chinks in the Opposition as the Congress and others did not support it as they did not want to send a signal that it was opposed to the bill.

The CPI(M) amendment, seeking inclusion of SCs, STs and OBCs along with economically weaker sections (EWS), Scheduled Castes (SC), Scheduled Tribes (ST) and Other Backward Classes (OBCs) in all private sector enterprises, including educational institutions, was also negated. While the bill provides for 10% quota for economically weaker sections, there is no quota for SCs, STs OBCs or EWS in private educational institutions or other organisations. Similar amendments by the SP were also negated.

The Opposition parties also are apprehensive that this law may not pass the judicial scrutiny if challenged, as the judgement on OBC quota had said that the reservation should not cross the 50% mark though the government believes that it will cross the mark. At present, the quota for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes (OBCs) run into 49.5%.

The Opposition parties sparred with the BJP over bringing the bill at the fag end of the Modi government's tenure, accusing it of trying to take the measure only because of the electoral reverses in the recent Assembly elections and with an eye on 2019 polls. This was echoed by leaders like Anand Sharma, Ramgopal Yadav and Derek O'Brien.

They also sought to question the government's motive by quoting job creation figures, with Yadav and Sharma asking what was the point in quota when there was no job creation under the Modi government.

Union Social Justice Minister Tawarchand Gehlot countered the Opposition's charge, claiming the government's intent was good and aimed at uplifting the poor of the nation.

Sharma said it was "beyond comprehension that a government on departure lounge", which suffered a "befitting" defeat in the recent Assembly elections, brought the bill on the eve of elections.

Yadav demanded that reservation for OBCs be enhanced to 54% as the government has already decided to break the 50% barrier set by the Supreme Court.

"What stopped you from bringing this bill earlier? This is not even a money bill. If your intentions were honest, this bill could have come earlier and could have really benefitted people... If the bill is passed, it will have to face judicial scrutiny," he said.

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Quota bill clears Parliament hurdle

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