The government faced a major embarrassment in the Rajya Sabha today when an amendment moved by the Opposition to a bill granting constitutional status to the OBC Commission was passed because of thin strength of ruling NDA MPs in the House. When an amendment moved by Congress MP Digvijaya Singh, demanding that a woman and a member from minority community be included in the OBC Commission, was put to vote, it received 74 for votes while only 52 MPs voted against it. There were only 126 MPs present in 245-member House during the voting.
The Constitution (123rd Amendment) Bill, 2017, which seeks to grant the National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC) constitutional status, was passed by the Lok Sabha in April and was referred to the Rajya Sabha's Select Committee after opposition parties blocked its passage in the Upper House. The select committee adopted the report without any amendment and the bill was then presented in the Rajya Sabha.
Consensus had been arrived at among the members of the committee with the MPs of all parties agreeing on according constitutional status to the commission. However, Digvijaya Singh demanded that at least one OBC woman and one person from minority OBC community must be included in the panel. During the voting on the amendment, the Opposition jointly supported the amendment.
The passing of the amendment created a peculiar situation in the House as an amended Bill had to be presented for the voting. While the Constitutional amendment required votes of two third members present in the House, amendment in the clause of the bill could be passed by simple majority vote. The NDA is in minority in the Rajya Sabha and has only 79 members.
Explaining the procedure, deputy Chairman PJ Kurien said that while amendment had been passed by the simple majority vote, the amended clause must be voted by two third majority. “For amended clause, all of you (MPs) should vote together, then only the bill will carry otherwise the bill will collapse,” Kurien said.
Leader of the House Arun Jaitley said that “provision as amended” has to be then carried by at least two third for which the parties will have to change their position. “In case that does not happen then this provisional part of the bill will be vacuum and obviously the Parliament cannot create a vacuum.
As disagreement among the members created an impasse, Congress MP P Chidambaram asked the treasury benches to support the amendment as it does not destroys the bill and only strengthens the bill.
Jaitley attempted to convince Congress MPs to give up the demand and agree to govternment's version, but without any result.
When the Congress stuck to its demand of passing the amendment, Jaitley accused the Opposition of stalling the bill. He said that there is already a Women Commission and a Minority Commission in the country and the new OBC commission does not need such condition. He argued that such condition put on a constitutional body would not stand the test of the Constitution. Jaitley said the OBC Commission's formula is same as the SC/ST Commission brought by the UPA government.
He demanded that the House be adjourned for a few minutes so that parties can work out a solution. Kurien, however, said that there is no precedent to adjourn the House after voting has begun. The Chair suspended the voting for a few minutes so the members could discuss the matter to find a solution to the deadlock. However, with no consensus on the amendment, the bill was passed without the amended clause.
But now the bills passed by Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha are different, the government has to bring a new bill which must be passed by both the houses.
Once the bill is passed, the Commission will become as powerful as the National Commission for Scheduled Castes and National Commission for Schedule Tribes. Till date, the OBC Commission is simply a legal body, whose job is to advise the government regarding the inclusion or removal of caste/community lists.
Earlier, moving the Bill, Minister of Social Justice and Empowerment Thawar Chand Gehlot said that the Bill would fulfill a long-standing demand for Constitutional status for the NCBC.''The Bill will ensure that the Commission will not only have power to include communities under the definition of Backward Classes but also have powers to hear civil and criminal cases. The Bill will empower people from these sections of the society," he said.
BJP not serious in passing OBC Commission Bill
Congress later accused the BJP of not being serious about passing the bill.
"BJP not serious about passing OBC Commission Constitution Amendment Bill. More than 30 of their MPs and 5 Ministers absent. Utter failure of Arun Jaitley Leader of the House and MOS Parliamentary Affairs in not mobilising support for the Bill," Digvijaya Singh said in a series of tweets later.
"What were our Amendments? Increase the number of Members from 3 to 5. All members should be from OBC one of them should be a Woman and one of them should be from Minorities. And the State Commission recommendation should be binding and if GOI differs then they should give reason in writing," he said.
"Are these Amendments against OBC? Shouldn't Council of States not protect the interests of the State?" Singh asked.