Rajya Sabha on Monday passed the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order (Amendment) Bill-2021 to club seven castes in poll-bound Tamil Nadu under one nomenclature of Devendrakula Vellalars.
The passage of the bill in Rajya Sabha completes the Parliamentary approval process. Lok Sabha had passed it last week and it will now go to the President for his assent.
Replying to the debate on the bill, Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment Thaawar Chand Gehlot highlighted the steps taken by the Modi government to give B R Ambedkar his rightful place, including completing projects conceived in his memory.
He rejected the opposition's charge that the bill has been brought with an eye on the ensuing assembly elections in Tamil Nadu and said the process, which started with the state government sending a proposal in 2015, took time to complete.
Assembly elections in Tamil Nadu will be held on April 6.
"There is no connection whatsoever with politics or elections in Tamil Nadu," he said, adding that the Registrar General of India (RGI) first vets proposals received from state governments, followed by an approval by the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST).
Once such an approval comes, the Cabinet takes it up and a bill is then introduced in Parliament.
Hitting out at the opposition camp on reservations, Gehlot asked who ended the reservation for scheduled castes (SC) and scheduled tribes (ST) in the Aligarh Muslim University and the Jamia Millia Islamia University after declaring them minority institutions.
"The UPA did," he said.
"We never even thought of ending reservation," the minister said and asked who had defeated Ambedkar when he fought Lok Sabha election.
To drive the point that the present BJP government is run as per statutes, Gehlot went on to invoke former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's statement to the media that his government would be bound by the constitution.
"Our government had, is and will continue to support reservation. Atal Bihari Vajpayee had it and so has Narendra Modi," he said, adding "criticism that we are trying to end reservation is far from the truth".
Replying to a charge by the opposition that there is a large number of vacancies in the government in reserved categories, he said as per the Department of Personnel and Training, against the provision of 15 per cent reservation for SCs, 13.66 per cent posts in Group A, 17.16 per cent in Group B, 16.98 per cent in Group C and 39.64 per cent in Group D were filled as on January 1, 2018.
Even in civil services, 100 per cent reservation is provided, Gehlot said.
The minister also countered Leader of the Opposition Mallikarjun Kharge's statement that the Congress-led UPA had sanctioned work for the Dr Ambedkar National Memorial at Ambedkar's residence at 26 Alipur Road in Delhi, and had allocated land for the Dr Ambedkar International Centre near Parliament.
Gehlot said work on the former started during the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government and no land was acquired for the latter during the United Progressive Alliance.
The Modi government acquired the land, built the memorial, and also inaugurated it, he said.
"The BJP, and the NDA government are the only benefactors of SCs... it was, it is and will remain a benefactor of SCs," he asserted.
The Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order (Amendment) Bill, 2021, seeks to effect changes in the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order, 1950, by Parliament.
The bill replaces the entry for the Devendrakulathan community with Devendrakula Vellalars, which now includes the communities that are currently listed separately within the Act.
These are the Devendrakulathan, Kalladi, Kudumban, Pallan, Pannadi, and Vathiriyan communities. The separate entries have been omitted.
The 1950 Order also includes the Kadaiyan community within the list of notified SCs in the state.
The opposition, while supporting the bill, pointed out that the government was acting on the demand only because elections were on in Tamil Nadu.