By Prarthana Mitra
A day after the SC/ST Protection From Atrocities Act was saved from the brink of dilution, a historic moment for India’s backward classes marked the Lok Sabha proceedings on Thursday.
Following a debate lasting 5 hours, the 406-member house voted unanimously in favour of the bill to recognise National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC) in the constitution. This would qualify the OBC community to enjoy the same status as the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe minorities. Besides, it also empowers the NCBC to oversee and investigate if/how safeguards are being implemented, and conduct probes in case of violation of rights with the same jurisdiction as a civil court.
Seeking representation at all levels
Passing the Constitution (123rd amendment) Bill 2017 in the presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Lok Sabha finally granted constitutional status to the OBC Commission.
Over the course of the debate, some 30 speakers spoke on a range of issues plaguing the nation’s OBC community. The Congress demanded a census to determine the specifics and population, while other participants suggested that the centre should disclose the findings of their 2014 socio-economic survey. TDP’s Ram Mohan Naidu Kinjarapu commented on the lack of idea of the OBC population 70 years after independence.
TMC leader Kalyan Banerjee, welcoming the conferment, stressed on the necessity for OBC representation in the higher echelons of the NCBC. Pointing towards the diminishing grants and scholarships for students hailing from backward classes, Banerjee also said, “The Commission should function in true spirit for the betterment of OBCs who deserve help and assistance.” Samajwadi Party’s Dharmendra Yadav took this point further, asking how many members from backward communities the BJP government had elected as governors or heads of states.
On the subject of OBC quota in government jobs, BJP leader Nityanand Rai lamented that the government is unable to fill more than 11 of the 27 per cent reserved for the community.
It was a mixed outcome for Bhartruhari Mahtab (BJD) whose initial suggestions were trampled by the government with “brute majority”. Only two of the amendments suggested by the BJD were accepted, including the appointment of a woman in the NCBC and allowing state governments to frame policies for the development of the OBC community.
Modi later applauded the efforts of social justice and development minister Thaawarchand Gehlot in successfully piloting the bill. Replying to the debate, Gehlot reiterated the government’s commitment to uplifting the backward classes, a major issue that was raised in the no-confidence motion debate last month. He also announced that a sub-committee has been set up under Justice G Rohini, to look into sub-categorisation among OB classes.
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius