The bill restores the power of state governments to notify their own lists for SEBCs (Socially and Educationally Backward Classes).
The Central government has called on all Opposition parties to support the passing of the Constitution (127th) Amendment Bill. The bill restores the power of state governments to notify their own lists for SEBCs (Socially and Educationally Backward Classes).
But the passing of the bill would require considerable support in both houses of the Parliament, as it stands to be a Constitutional Amendment. Union Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi asked for cooperation from the opposition parties “because it involves the welfare of the OBCs”.
High Political Stakes
With caste-based reservation being a politically sensitive issue, leaders of 15 opposition parties on August 9 decided to support the 127th Constitution Amendment Bill at a meeting at the office of Mallikarjun Kharge, Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha.
However, the opposition parties are also expected to call for the removal of the 50 percent cap on reservations through this amendment. The Opposition is also likely to demand inclusion of caste-based census in the bill in lieu of support.
The Monsoon Session of Parliament has so far seen frequent disruptions with the BJP-led government being at loggerheads with the Opposition over the Pegasus snooping issue. However, this will be the rare occasion when both sides will be working together for the passing of the OBC quota bill.
BJP eyeing UP Assembly elections
The passing of the bill is expected to have a significant impact on the outcome of the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections scheduled early next year.
With the COVID-19 second wave, BJP led government has faced major criticism over the way the pandemic was handled in the most populous state of India. The bill and the subsequent power of the BJP state government in UP to notify their own OBC list may be the crucial factor needed to maintain a solid majority in the state assembly.
Uttar Pradesh has a sizable OBC population. In a state known for sharp political polarisation along caste lines, the ruling BJP as well as the opposition parties are vying to woo the OBC voters in the upcoming Assembly elections. The recent decision of the Central government allowing 27 percent reservation for OBCs and Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) in the NEET examination is also being seen as a move in the same direction.
The legal challenge still remains
The move to introduce the amendment bill comes after the recent judgement of the Supreme Court against the validity of the 2018 Maharashtra Maratha quota. The Supreme Court in its ruling held that only the Central government was capable of producing a unitary list of OBCs, while state governments could only recommend new caste groups to be included in the list.
Even if the amendment bill as proposed is passed, the OBC-reservation will still have to stand up to the legal scrutiny of the 50 percent cap on caste-based reservation. The 50 percent cap was imposed by the Supreme Court in its 1993 Indra Sawhney case judgment. While delivering the judgment in the recent Maratha quota case the apex court also denied revisiting its judgment in the Indra Sawhney case.
While some opposition parties are expected to call for the removal of the 50 percent cap as part of the Bill, it is yet to be seen what will be the take of the Union government on this matter.
So far, only Tamil Nadu has managed to ensure 69 percent reservation in jobs and educational institutions without falling foul of the law. The southern state had managed to achieve this by getting the Union government to pass a law that would enshrine its reservation quota within the Ninth Schedule of the Constitution.
(Edited by : Aditi Gautam)
First Published: IST