127th amendment bill restores states’ powers in OBC reservation; why Oppn is supporting?

The bill aims to bypass a May 2021 Supreme Court ruling that said only the union government could notify SEBCs — and not the states.

The union government on Monday introduced the Constitution (127th Amendment) Bill, 2021 in the Lok Sabha, that seeks to restore the states’ power to make their own OBC lists–thereby providing them reservations accordingly.

While introducing the bill in parliament, social justice and empowerment minister Virendra Kumar sought amendments in articles 338B and 366 of the Constitution in order to adequately clarify that the states and Union territories are empowered to prepare and maintain their own list of SEBCs (Socially and Educationally Backward Classes).

The Opposition, which caused frequent disruptions with Pegasus, farmer and other issues, too said that it will cooperate with the Modi-led government in smooth clearance of the constitutional amendment that requires 2/3rd majority in both the houses of the parliament.

Why the amendment?

The bill aims to bypass a May 2021 Supreme Court ruling that said only the union government could notify SEBCs — and not the states. It said the president, based on the recommendations of the National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC), would determine which communities would be included on the state OBC list.

Besides, the 102nd Constitution Amendment Act of 2018 had inserted Articles 338B and Article 342A (with two clauses) after Article 342. Articles 338B deals with the structure, duties and powers of the National Commission for Backward Classes. Article 342A says that the president, in consultation with the governor, would specify the socially and educationally backward classes. This gives authority to the central body.

The 127th amendment is necessary to restore the powers of the state governments in maintaining a state list of OBCs which was taken away by the Supreme Court interpretation. If the state list gets abolished, around 671 OBC communities would lose access to reservations in educational institutions and in appointments. This would adversely impact nearly one-fifth of the total OBC communities.

This bill will allow state lists of SEBCs to be maintained and will amend clauses 1 and 2 of Article 342A and also introduce a new clause 3. The bill will also amend Articles 366 (26c) and 338B (9).

Why is the Opposition supporting?

It is rather evident to understand the high political stakes of all parties in sensitive caste matters ahead of elections to Uttar Pradesh, Manipur, Punjab, Goa and Uttarakhand. BJP is particularly eyeing for Uttar Pradesh, where there is a sizable OBC population.

The recent decision of the Central government allowing 27 per cent reservation for OBCs and Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) in the NEET examination is also being seen as a move in the same direction.

The political ramifications are huge for those in Opposition too. They too are looking at the substantial OBC votes in the states headed for polls, and supporting the BJP-led government is the only way.

Besides, the Opposition might also demand that the government make a provision to remove the 50 per cent cap on reservations, an old demand by OBC outfits. It is being said that 27 states have pending issues of reservation hampered by the 50 per cent ceiling. The 50 per cent cap was imposed by the Supreme Court in its 1993 Indra Sawhney case judgment. 

If BJP is ready for this negotiation, then the Opposition clearly wins, pushing the government into legal tussle.

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