With an eye on securing upper caste votes ahead of the general elections, the union cabinet cleared a Constitutional Amendment Bill on Monday to give 10% reservation to the economically backward sections of society, over and above the 49.5% quota in place for SC, ST and OBCs. The special cabinet meeting was held in Parliament House to discuss and clear the Bill to amend Articles 15 and 16 of the Constitution to give reservation to the economically backward sections. The other issue on the agenda of the meeting was the Citizenship Amendment Bill, which allows citizenship to Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Jains, Parsis and Buddhists migrating from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. The Bills are likely to be introduced in Lok Sabha on Tuesday. Rajya Sabha’s schedule has been extended to Wednesday to take up the two Bills. The Centre — which has a brute majority in the Lower House of Parliament— is confident of passage of the Bills in the winter session itself.
The Bill which deals with 10% quota seeks to add Clause 6 in Articles 15 and 16 of the Constitution to extend reservation in educational institutions and government jobs, respectively. The amendment will state that this 10% reservation for the economically backward will be other than the category mentioned in Clause 5 of Article 15 (the socially and educationally backward or the SC and ST). Reservation will be given in educational institutions — both private and public, aided and unaided, other than minority institutions — under the new Bill. Similarly, for government jobs, the new clause in Article 16 will state that the 10% reservation will be in keeping with Clause 4 but will be over and above the quota for SC, ST and the socially and educationally backward. Government sources maintained that the Bill does not violate the Indra Sawhney judgment — that total reservation should not exceed 50% — on grounds that the Supreme Court said it applies only in the case of socially and educationally backward classes whereas this Bill deals with quota for the economically backward sections of society.
The beneficiaries will include economically backward sections from all religions. While this Bill will give reservation to economically backward in central government jobs, the states will be free to pass laws in keeping with this legislation. The Jats in Haryana and Marathas in Maharashtra are among those aggressively seeking reservations. This government’s move has come weeks after its defeat in the Assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan where the upper caste went against BJP in the wake of its stand on the “dilution” of the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. The NDA government had moved a Bill in Parliament before the Assembly polls to overrule the Supreme Court judgment that said no immediate arrests should be made in cases filed under the SC/ST Act and it should be done only after a senior officer has checked the veracity of the complaint. BJP’s strategy appears to be to win back the upper caste Brahmin-Bania support that formed its core vote base. This was getting weaned away as the party made efforts to reach out to Dalits and OBCs. Also, teething problems in implementation of Goods and Services Tax and impact of demonetisation have antagonised BJP’s core voters.