The Rajya Sabha’s Select Committee on Friday adopted a Bill to grant constitutional status to the National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC), although several Opposition members have decided to send dissent notes by Saturday, opposing the Bill and citing “direct encroachment” on the rights of states. The Trinamool Congress sent its dissent note on Friday and the Congress, DMK and Samajwadi parties will send theirs too. A Congress member on the panel said some dissent notes will be sent to the panel’s chairman, Bhupendra Yadav of the BJP.
Members of the Congress, Trinamool Congress, DMK, AIADMK, Samajwadi Party, BJD, NCP and the BSP had sought modifications in the Bill and Yadav had assured the members some of their amendments would be included as suggestions in a separate sheet. The Opposition members insisted on Friday that they will send dissent notes as “our suggestions were not heeded”.
The Bill was sent to the Select Committee of the Rajya Sabha in the second week of April after passage in the Lok Sabha. “The constitutional amendment Bill has only five clauses which primarily deals with the setting up of an OBC commission for the socially and educationally backward classes. The details of the powers, functions and composition of the commission would be provided in a separate draft NCBC Bill that will be brought in once this existing Bill is passed,” a panel member said.
With OBCs constituting roughly 52 per cent of the population, BJP members conceded that granting constitutional status to the commission in keeping with a long-time demand from community leaders is expected to yield a great political dividend for the party. The draft Bill, and its corresponding rules, will replace the NCBC Act, 1993, that was enforced in the wake of the Mandal Commission report. In addition to its existing powers of recommending inclusion or exclusion of communities on the OBC list, the empowered commission will have all powers of the civil court, such as issuing summons, demanding any official document and evidence on affidavits.
Opposition members on the panel had suggested amendments to Sub-Article 338(B) for specifying the qualification for the appointment of the chairperson and members of the commission and in Article 342(A)(2) to ensure that the President acts on the advice of the NCBC to include or exclude from the central list of socially and educationally backward classes, and also consults the state government on any state-specific issues.
Another demand of the Opposition members was to change the name of National Commission for Backward Classes to National Commission for Socially and Educationally Backward Classes. A source on the panel said these suggestions were made by the Opposition members on Friday but since the clause-wise voting on the Bill was already carried out in the last meeting of the panel, the report was adopted.
Digvijaya Singh of the Congress demanded that the chairperson and members of the panel be from the OBC community. Some members also asked for representation from among women and Muslims on the panel. But the panel chief did not agree to these demands.
Sukhendu Sekhar Roy of the Trinamool Congress opposed the Bill, saying a “unitary system” has been proposed in the Bill for identifying and verifying the socially and economically backward classes and it is against the “spirit of federalism” and a “direct encroachment” on the rights of states. B K Hariprasad of the Congress said the Bill “clearly centralises the entire power with the central government”.