323 MPs voted in support of the Bill and only 3 voted against it, underlining the cross-party support the politically crucial Bill elicited.
New Delhi: The Lok Sabha on Tuesday passed the landmark Constitution (124th Amendment) Bill 2019 to provide 10 per cent quota for economically weaker sections in government jobs and educational institutions, including private, aided or unaided, ones. While the government claimed the legislation was “historic” and should be unanimously passed, most Opposition parties, though in-principle supporting it, termed the legislation as a “political gimmick” ahead of general elections scheduled for later this year.
The Constitution (124th Amendment) Bill 2019 seeks to amend the Constitution by introducing provisions for reservation for economically weaker sections (EWS).
The Bill was passed by voting with division as it was a Constitutional Amendment Bill after a four-hour-long debate. As many as 323 members voted in support of Bill and only three voted against, underlining the cross-party support the politically crucial Bill elicited.
Congress backed the Bill, but questioned the timing of the decision, given that it comes four months before the country is scheduled to hold general elections. AIMIM leader Asadudin Owaisi opposed the Bill and AIADMK member M. Thambidurai walked out.
The EWS quota Bill, which was cleared by the Union Cabinet on Monday, had not been listed in the List of Business of the House and was circulated suddenly at around 12 noon and added as a supplementary business. Social justice minister Thawar Chand Gehlot introduced it even as the Lower House was debating another piece of legislation.
The Bill, however, is unlike to see a smooth passage in the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday with the government lacking the numbers in the Upper House. A Constitution Amendment Bill needs to muster two-thirds majority of members present in each House of Parliament.
Kicking off the debate from Opposition benches, senior Congress leader K.V. Thomas said that the Bill was being introduced and passed in great haste. “This is an important legislation. I think the government is very hasty and any hasty decision will land us in a mess”.
“This should not become a tamasha,” he said adding that the purpose of the government seems to be the coming elections. “You are looking at the 2019 manifesto. You are butchering Indian democracy”.
Mr Thomas said his party was in favour of the Bill being referred to a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) for scrutiny and added that the Bill was nothing but a “jumla”.
Finance minister Arun Jaitely, who was making an intervention in the debate, said that all parties should pass the Bill as almost every party, including the Congress, had supported the measure in their poll manifesto.
Buttressing his point, he quoted from the Congress’ manifesto and said most parties in their manifesto had promised this “jumla”.
“You promised this reservation in your Lok Sabha election manifesto of 2014. The question of sincerity (sic). Will a government promise be limited to manifesto or will it translate into a law to deliver real benefits? If you are supporting this Bill, please support it whole heartedly and not grudgingly,” the finance minister said.
Mr Jaitely rejected suggestions that the measure may fall foul of a Supreme Court judgement putting a cap of 50 per cent at the total quota. The bar, he added, is for caste-based reservations, while the Bill seeks quota for the economically weaker sections in the general category.
“Just as equals cannot be treated unequally, unequals 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,” Mr Jaitley said.
Supporting the Bill, Union minister Ram Vilas Paswan said there should also be reservation in the private sector and demanded that the Bill be added in the 9th Schedule of the Constitution so that it is not challenged in courts.
NCP leader Supriya Sule said though she supported the Bill, it was unfortunate that the finance minister said that “we are grudgingly giving support”.
“They have been in power for more than four years. Why was this not brought earlier? They should first explain how the job scene is,” she said.
Dharmendra Yadav of the Samajwadi Party said his party was in favour of the Bill but the government should come out with a report of the share accrued to all communities.
In his reply, the social justice minister said the passage of the Bill is a historic occasion for the country. “We have managed to give the economically backward classes their due,” he said.
Mr Gehlot said that doubts about the legislation being challenged in courts was unfounded as earlier attempts were made without constitutional provisions.
Participating in the debate, M. Thambidurai of AIADMK said reservation is not on economic backwardness but on social backwardness. He pointed out that government has many schemes for uplift of economically poor sections of the society and did that mean that these schemes have failed.
Both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress president Rahul Gandhi were present during the passage of the Bill.
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. The economically deprived among Muslims, Christians and other religions will also benefit.