The Rajasthan Assembly on Thursday passed a Bill which grants 5 per cent reservation to Gujjars and four other castes in the state, amid concerns raised even by BJP MLAs. The Rajasthan Backward Classes (Reservation of Seats in Educational Institutions in the State and of Appointment and Posts in Services under the State) Bill, 2017, seeks to increase the Other Backward Classes (OBC) quota from 21 per cent to 26 per cent by creating a section for More Backward Classes for Banjara, Gadiya Lohar, Gujjar, Raika and Gadariya castes.
However, the Bill, tabled by the Vasundhara Raje government on Wednesday, also increases the current 49 per cent reservation to 54 per cent, exceeding the 50 per cent limit set by the Supreme Court. The Rajasthan High Court in December last year struck down a 5 per cent reservation for these castes provided through the Rajasthan Special Backward Classes (SBC) Act, 2015. Rajasthan faces elections in a little over a year from now.
During the debate in the Assembly, criticism centred around how two previous Bill passed by the House had been struck down by the high court as it flouted the 50 per cent quota ceiling. The MLAs cautioned the government that if the high court struck down this legislation, it may impact other castes on the OBC list, since they have been clubbed together, “prompting them to take to the streets”.
The debate was held amid protests by the Congress, which protested with a sit-in in the well of the House. Bahujan Samaj Party MLA Manoj Kumar and Independent MLA Nandkishore Maharia also chanted slogans and waved placards. BJP MLA Prahlad Gunjal said: “I have been an MLA whenever the Bill (for reservation to Gujjars and other castes) was passed by this House, but it is unfortunate that we have not been able to ensure justice to these castes. This time, the Bill is merely an eyewash.” He said there was no need to bring a Bill as reservation could have been extended by issuing a notification.
“You brought a Bill and now you will bring a notification for it. The notification will be quashed by the HC and you’ll keep repeating that the Bill is intact and mislead, and claim that you will bring another notification, which will also be challenged,” Gunjal said.
Independent MLA Manik Chand Surana, one of the senior MLAs in the House, pointed out that the court, while quashing the SBC Act last year, had observed that “it is not that the Gujjars/ Gurjars and others were having no representation either for admission in the educational institutions or in services”. Social Justice Minister Arun Chaturvedi said that the government had indeed addressed the shortcomings of the 2015 SBC Act while bringing the current Bill.