The OBC Bill, 2021

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What is the OBC Bill?

The OBC Bill was passed by the lower and the upper house on 10th and 11th August respectively as “the Constitution (One hundred and Twenty-Seventh Amendment) Bill, 2021. This Bill aims at restoring the powers of the State governments and Union Territories to make their own lists for the “Socially and Educationally Backward Class (SEBC)” people. The bill has been supported by more than 14 opposition parties including “the Congress, the Trinamool Congress, Samajvadi Party, Shivsena, Nationalist Congress Party, Rashtriya Janta Dal, and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam”. It was passed amid several protests and debates going on the other issues like Pegasus in the houses.

Background  

In 2018, 102nd Constitutional Amendment was passed by the parliament which inserted Articles 338B and 342A in the constitution. Article 338B deals with the “structure, duties and power of the National Commission for Backward Classes.” Article 324A says that “the President, in consultation with the governor, would specify the socially and educationally backward classes.” This amendment was upheld by the Supreme Court but it said that the President would have the power to determine the communities to be included in the OBC list after recommendations from the National Commission for Backward Classes.

This was the ruling which struck down the Maratha reservation which was in the news for a very long time. This ruling made it necessary for the government to bring out the bill because the amendment of 2018 “mandated for a single central list of SEBCs specifying the SEBCs for each state, thereby taking away the powers of the state to prepare and maintain a separate list of SEBCs” which was reaffirmed by the Supreme Court.

About this Bill  

It was put forth by the Social Justice and Empowerment Minister Virendra Kumar. The said bill has amended clauses 1 and 2 of Article 342A and has also introduced another clause, clause 3 to it. It has also amended Articles 366 (26c) and 338B (9). The bill was basically made to clarify “that the states can maintain the “state list” of OBCs” as it was the system before the judgment of the Supreme Court. It was primarily made “to protect the federal structure of the country and empower the state governments to maintain their lists of OBCs.” The objects and reasons of the Bill say the same thing and affirmed that there has always been a separate list of the state governments and the central government on this matter since 1993 and will continue to do so.

Article 366 (26c) which was amended defines who would be covered under the socially and economically backward classes.

The said state list which would be made by the state can be notified by the state government and has been taken out of the ambit of the President.

The Bill got unanimous support from the opposition and it was the first time since the commencement of the monsoon session that a proper and orderly debate happened to pass it. All 385 members voted in favour of it with no one opposing it. The Social Justice Minister claimed that the bill would be a historical one as it would benefit 671 castes together in the country.     

Way Ahead

When the bill was being passed, the opposition also demanded to remove the 50% cap existing now on the reservations but the ruling party said this was a very delicate issue and involved questions of law including the constitution and the view of the Supreme Court in which they have repeatedly reaffirmed that the cap should be retained at 50% only.

The amendment was necessary to protect the rights of 671 castes which amounts to almost 1/5th of the OBC community who would have lost their reservation in furtherance to the judgment of the Supreme Court. With this, it was also necessary to retain the powers of the State Governments to make their own list which was done away with by the judgment, and also to maintain the federal structure that our country follows.

While the amendment was necessary, it also gives a free hand to the state governments and the regional parties to add communities to the OBC list that would increase their vote bank which becomes primordial because of the upcoming elections at Uttar Pradesh. And this is why the opposition also supported it unanimously in the Parliament. But this fact does not lessen the need and necessity of the amendment as the judgment and the amendment which existed before violated the very federal structure of the country.    

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