While criticising the government’s timing and haste in bringing the constitutional amendment Bill to provide for 10 per cent reservation for economically weaker sections among general category, the Opposition mounted no concerted effort to block it in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday except for token demands to refer the legislation to a joint parliamentary committee.
One of the concerns raised by the Opposition was that the Bill may not stand legal scrutiny. “It will be struck down in the Supreme Court,” AIADMK leader M Thambidurai said, adding that the Centre should amend the Constitution further to also secure Tamil Nadu’s 69 per cent reservation. AIADMK members later staged a walkout before the voting on the Bill as the government did not reassure them.
Union minister Ram Vilas Paswan suggested that the quota be included in the 9th Schedule of the Constitution, which is outside judicial review. He also called for reservation in private sector and an Indian Judicial Service with quota, saying the judiciary is filled only with “rich people’s sons”.
The BJD’s B Mahtab highlighted the challenge of administering reservation based on economic criteria, pointing out that unlike fixed caste identities, the economic status of families may vary over time.
Questioning the sincerity of the government, Congress leader K V Thomas said, “This is a constitutional amendment, which needs to get approval of a majority of the states. The government only has three months left and then the next session is Interim Budget. Where is the time?”
Linking the government move to recent BJP electoral losses, Thomas added, “You are butchering Indian democracy.”
The NCP’s Supriya Sule wanted to know if the move would help those states which had already announced reservations breaching the Supreme Court’s limit of 50 per cent.
The AIMIM’s Asaduddin Owaisi raised eight points to counter the Bill, which he called “a fraud on the Constitution”. He said it was an “insult” to B R Ambedkar, as “the original purpose of reservations was social justice”, and “against the spirit of the Constitution” as the Constitution does not allow for quotas based on economic classification. Owaisi said the Bill was also “fraught with impropriety” as it was not based on any “empirical data” and, echoing other members, said it would be struck down by courts.
Revolutionary Socialist Party MP N K Premachandran said that while the “contents of the Bill were good”, the government’s intent was “not bona fide”. Noting that the Constituent Assembly had cleared each provision after detailed discussion, the MP asked why such an important amendment was being made “within minutes”.
Another member who raised a similar objection was the IUML’s E T Mohammed Basheer. He accused the government of “bulldozing all healthy parliamentary practices” and “opening the floodgates of trouble”.
Members of the SP, RJD, and RLSP demanded proportional reservation for SCs, STs and OBCs based on their share of the population. The SP’s Dharmendra Yadav asked for the result of the Socio-Economic Caste Census to be made public.
Several members sought the government’s “report card” on employment, reminding the House about the BJP’s promise of 2 crore annual jobs in its 2014 manifesto.
BJP ally and Union minister Anupriya Patel of the Apna Dal lent her voice to the Opposition demand for proportional reservation for OBCs, as well as B Mahtab’s doubts regarding administration of economic criteria.
Speakers from the BJP hailed PM Modi, with Nishikant Dubey saying the move would “end the unpleasantness between reserved and unreserved communities”.