Upper caste quota bill no longer jumla, passed in Lok Sabha with majority support

New Delhi: After a day of long-drawn discussions, a Bill envisaging 10% reservation in employment and education for the economically weaker sections of society, among those not enjoying any reservation benefit so far, was put to vote in the Lok Sabha and passed with an overwhelming majority. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was in the House when the voting took place. The passage of the Bill was greeted with chants of “Bharat Mata ki Jai”.

The Bill is to be presented in the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday where it stands a fair chance with several opposition parties supporting it despite reservations.  The Bill was passed with 323 lawmakers voting for it and only three withholding support. Tamil Nadu’s ruling AIADMK walked out before the voting.

Among the opposition parties, the Samajwadi Party, the Telangana Rashtra Samithi, the Trinamool Congress, the Left and the Congress said they would support the Bill. The Congress, however, said it would prefer a parliamentary committee to look into the matter. The opposition had raised key points over the proposed quota. It said that there is no definition or mention of economic weaker section in the Constitution. It also expressed concern over the 50% ceiling.

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley justified the Bill and claimed it will not violate the ceiling of 50% reservation fixed by the Supreme Court in the Indra Sawhney case. That ceiling applies only to caste-based reservation under Article 15(4) and that is why the court has been striking down caste-based reservations by various states.

Just as equals cannot be treated unequally, unequal cannot be treated equally… Reservation was always envisioned for socially or educationally backward, on the basis of caste. Therefore Supreme Court’s judgment applies only to reservation of backward classes,” Jaitley said. The Bill is expected to benefit a huge section of upper castes, including Brahmins, Rajputs (Thakurs), Jats, Marathas, Bhumihars, and several trading castes, including Kapus and Kammas.

Piloting the Bill, Social Justice Minister Thawar Chand Gehlot said even the Mandal Commission, which had ushered in reservation for the OBCs (other backward classes), had also recommended 10% reservation to the poorest among the upper castes. The same 10% was also recommended by a commission set up in 2004, which gave its report in May-June 2010.

Gehlot said the Modi government had showered many facilities and benefits on those not covered by the existing reservation, but it ultimately felt that even this was not sufficient and hence the Constitution bill. He promised that this will not cut into the reservations available to the SCs, STs and OBCs.

He also said the government is only fulfilling a long-time demand for reservation to the poor among the upper castes and noted that private members’ bills were moved 21 times on the subject in Parliament. Jaitley exuded confidence that the Bill shall sail through Parliament in this winter session itself, since almost all parties had promised this 10% opportunity in their 2014 poll manifesto and that includes not only the BJP and the NDA but also the Congress.

In Bihar, Lalu Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal said they are opposed to the quota bill, as the government did not consult any parties before tabling it. Also there is no fresh data on demography and demanded instead an 85 per cent quota for the Scheduled Castes and Tribes and the Other Backward Classes.



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