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West Bengal, Odisha and Karnataka have raised red flags over a Bill that seeks to give constitutional status to the National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC), arguing that it raised the possibility of “snatching away the rights of states”. A parliamentary panel has been asked to submit a report on the Bill in the forthcoming session of the House. While several states, among them CPM-ruled Tripura, have given unequivocal support to the Constitution (One Hundred and Twenty-third Amendment) Bill, 2017, some others, such as CPM-ruled state Kerala have given suggestions but not opposed the Bill.
None of the BJP-ruled states has objected to the Bill. Gujarat has sought to know the status of the Indira Sawhney judgment of the Supreme Court vis-a-vis the legislation. The UP government has endorsed the proposed amendment and Haryana has said the state government should be given a right to make recommendations to the commission for consideration of socially, educationally and economically backward classes. AIADMK-ruled Tamil Nadu has made a number of suggestions but has not opposed the Bill.
The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, has said no amendment is called for in the 2017 Bill being pushed by the government. Sources said that in an apparent attempt to strike a consensus in the panel, it is being stressed that the legislation will “not interfere with the powers of the states” to notify a state’s OBC list. The Bill was passed by Lok Sabha on April 10 but it was referred to a Select Committee of Rajya Sabha after Opposition MPs voiced reservations over it on April 12.
The panel has so far met half a dozen times and is expected to meet again on July 14 to finalise its report before the monsoon session begins on July 17. The Trinamool Congress government in West Bengal has said in its submission that the proposed amendment will “deprive” the state from making provisions for socially and educationally Backward Classes (BCs) under Article 15 (4) of the Constitution of India. It said the amendment appears to be “against the spirit of co-operative federalism” and “undermines the role of the state government and state commissions for backward classes. It said the proposed amendment would be a “hindrance” to the development of particular communities, who may have inadequate representation in the state and so the government is not in favour of adoption of the Bill.
Odisha said the proposed amendment would “snatch away” the power of the state which also has a state Backward Classes Commission. The BJD-led government noted that under the proposed norms, discretion lies with the central government to grant or refuse status of Socially and Educationally Backward Classes to any class of citizens, thereby “shrinking the authority of the state government”. It said this was “against the federal structure of the Constitution”. Congress-ruled Karnataka underlined that there was apprehension on whether the combined reading of the amended Articles 322 (A) and 366 (26c) under the Bill would lead to “taking away the rights of backward classes in the state”.
The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment asserted that the provisions in the proposed Bill do not interfere with the powers of the state government to notify socially and educationally backward classes or undermine the federal structure or the role of states. It also insisted that none of the clauses in the proposed Bill would cause any hindrance to the state backward classes commissions making recommendations or the state government making any inclusion of caste/communities in the state list. Even when the Bill was passed by the Lok Sabha on April 10, members from Congress, Trinamool Congress and BJD had sought an assurance that the powers of the states would not be affected by the Bill.