The Lok Sabha passed a Constitution amendment bill Monday to pave the way for the National Commission for Backward Classes amid concerns from Opposition parties that the way the bill is written seeks to curb the powers of the states. The bill accords constitutional status to the proposed body in line with similar commissions for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. Requiring a two-thirds majority, the division vote saw 360 MPs supporting the amendment and two opposing it. The House also repealed the National Commission for Backward Classes Act 1993.
Social Justice and Empowerment Minister Thawar Chand Gehlot called it a “historic step” towards the welfare of OBCs. He assured the House that the government does not seek to encroach upon powers of the states, with members of the Congress, the Trinamool Congress, the BJD and the AIADMK having sought such an assurance. Kalyan Banerjee (Trinamool) and Bhartruhari Mahtab (BJD) said the bill would take away the powers of states to include or exclude a community.
The minister said after the law is enacted, it is Parliament and not the government that will have powers to include or exclude any community from the list of OBCs, he said. “So in that sense we are weakening the Centre,” he said.
Responding to demands for including a woman in the five-member commission, the minister said he would incorporate this suggestion while framing the rules for putting the legislation into effect.
As per the statement of objects and reasons, the commission will hear the grievances of socially and educationally backward classes, a function discharged so far by the National Commission for Scheduled Castes. It also seeks to insert a new article 342A to provide that the President may, by public notification, specify socially and educationally backward classes.