Opposition parties likely to submit dissent note after amendments rejected

The parliamentary panel’s final report on the bill to give constitutional status to the National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC) was adopted Friday without any changes, setting the stage for its passage in the Rajya Sabha during the upcoming session.

Some opposition parties, sources told ThePrint, may end up submitting a dissent note after the amendments they suggested were not adopted. Besides the Congress, other opposition parties including the Trinamool Congress and Biju Janata Dal have registered their reservations on the bill earlier. Of particular concern was infringement on powers of the state governments.

Senior Congress leader Digvijaya Singh, ThePrint has learnt, also demanded that the commission should be made more representative and expanded to include more women and minority members in it. It was also suggested that the chair of the commission should be mandated to be only from the OBC community. However, BJP members of the panel felt that this could lead to a challenge in the courts.

The Congress also wanted to know the rationale of providing constitutional status to the NCBC when Article 340 of the Constitution already provides for the welfare of OBCs.

The Select Committee, however, eventually felt that there was no need for any further amendments to the bill as demanded by the opposition. The panel is also believed to have concluded that none of the provisions in the bill infringe upon the rights and powers of the states.

Through this constitutional amendment, the commission will move from being a statutory authority under the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment to a constitutional body with powers of a civil court and the right to summon authorities in case of grievances against anyone from the backward classes.

The move is also expected to reap political dividends for the ruling BJP in states going to polls over the next few months as almost all of them have a significant OBC population. The Centre took this initiative soon after the BJP’s emphatic win in the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections.

The Lok Sabha had passed the bill in April but it was referred to a Select Committee in the Rajya Sabha after opposition members there raised concerns over the bill eroding the authority of state governments.

Some political parties had earlier expressed apprehensions about the bill saying that it may affect a state government’s decision-making powers on inclusion or exclusion of castes among backward classes. Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah had written to the Select Committee as well, citing similar issues.

The Select Committee, however, has observed that the 10,000 castes included under state lists will not be affected as the NCBC will stick to its own list. The procedure for inclusion of castes in the state list will remain the same, done just by the assent of the Governor. As far as the inclusions and exclusions if any in the Central list, the procedure will need NCBC recommendation followed by parliamentary approval.

Following the passage of the constitutional amendment bill, a new bill to set up the NCBC will be tabled.

The bill mainly rests on five key clauses. It proposes to insert Article 338 B in the Constitution to enable setting up the NCBC which will have one chairperson and three other members. Another important clause empowers the commission with powers of a civil court to summon authorities in case of grievances and also to monitor the implementation of various schemes targeted at OBCs.

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