A constitutional amendment bill to restore the powers of the states to make their own OBC lists was passed by Parliament on Wednesday, with the opposition and treasury benches joining hands in the Rajya Sabha to approve the legislation.
The Constitution (One Hundred and Twenty-Seventh Amendment) Bill, 2021 was passed by the Lok Sabha, a day before.
Social Justice and Empowerment Minister Virendra Kumar said the bill will help restore the powers of states to have their own lists of OBCs which was negated by the Supreme Court.
The bill was passed in the Rajya Sabha, with 187 members voting in its favour, and no one opposing it. Some amendments moved by the opposition were negated.
The Rajya Sabha, which has been witnessing a logjam over issues such as Pegasus and farm laws, on Wednesday discussed the bill for about five hours as members from both treasury as well as opposition benches participated in it.
Kumar said the legislation will help 671 communities, almost one-fifth of the total OBCs in the country, get reservation in jobs and educational institutions.
The 102nd Constitution Amendment Act of 2018 inserted articles 338B, which deals with the structure, duties and powers of the National Commission for Backward Classes, and 342A that deals with the powers of the President to notify a particular caste as Socially and Educationally Backward Communities (SEBCs) and the power of Parliament to change the list. Article 366 (26C) defines SEBCs.
The Supreme Court had dismissed the Centre's plea seeking a review of its May 5 majority verdict that held that the 102nd Constitution amendment took away the states' power to notify SEBCs for the grant of quota in jobs and admissions.
During the discussion held in an amicable atmosphere, Leader of Opposition and senior Congress Leader Mallikarjun Kharge said the legislation would benefit 65 per cent people in the country. Taking a jibe at the ruling BJP, he said the debate on the bill had deviated from the subject and it was limited to criticising the Congress.
Kharge also asked the government to add one line in the bill and make provision that the state government can go beyond the 50 per cent limit.
"Add one sentence, that the state government can give (reservation) beyond 50 per cent,” Kharge said.
The Congress leader asked the government to prepare for reservations in the private sector as well, since the number of PSUs were on decline. The PSUs generated lakhs of employment but they don't exist today.
"We will support it like we are supporting the bill today," Kharge said and demanded that the government fill all backlog vacancies.
The Congress MPs also asked the government why was it "quiet" and "running away" from a caste-based census, which was mooted by a woman MP of the ruling BJP in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday and even by the chief ministers of Bihar and Odisha.
A caste-based census is required to assess the exact ground situation because in at least 30 states and Union territories, the reservation for backward classes has crossed the upper limit, the opposition party said.
Congress leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi raised the issue while initiating the discussion on the Bill, 2021.
Asserting that there is a demand for a caste-based census from all quarters, Singhvi said the exercise is needed because the quota for backward classes has exceeded the determined limits in many states.
In 30 states and Union territories, it is more than 50 per cent, he said, while referring to Nagaland and Chhattisgarh in particular.
Similarly, while there is a 17-per cent quota for the backward classes in jobs, in reality, their percentage is higher, the Congress leader 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.
Meanwhile, the ruling BJP tried to corner the Congress for allegedly not doing enough for the SCs, STs and OBCs despite ruling the country for decades, and claimed that it was only the governments of which the Jan Sangh or the Bharatiya Janata Party was a part that actually worked for the uplift of the deprived sections of the society.
Countering Singhvi's contention that the government was late in bringing the legislation, senior BJP leader Sushil Modi stressed that the government was quick to introduce the bill. He said the Centre filed a review petition in the Supreme Court on May 13, within eight days of the decision on the matter by the apex court.
"How much faster can it be?" he quipped.
The Supreme Court dismissed the review petition on July 1.
The Centre, Modi said had made its intention clear in the Select Committee, the Lok Sabha, the Rajya Sabha, in the review petition and on other occasions as well that it does not want to deprive the states of the right to prepare their own OBC lists.
"Can any central government deprive the state governments of their rights?" he asked.