By Nevin Clinton
The Indian Constitution has been subject a plethora of times to amendments and changes that suit the needs of the concerned time period. One of the unique features of the Constitution is that it can neither be classified as rigid or flexible. This is in the sense that amendments are not extremely easy to bring in, but they aren’t too difficult either. There have been over a 100 amendments to the Constitution so far and the latest has come in the form of the 127th Amendment Bill which was passed by the Parliament this month.
The passing of the bill was interesting and grabbed headlines because the opposition supported it. There were in fact discussions that lasted six hours over the passing of the bill but the overwhelming majority pointed at a bill that would be meritorious. The bill largely deals with backward classes and provisions concerning them. It seeks to bring back control in the hands of the state with regard to these classes’ classification.
What does the bill deal with?
The bill serves as a clarification to certain provisions that were present in the 102nd amendment act. The aim is to ensure that states and union territories retain the power to prepare their own list of SEBCs i.e. socially and economically backward classes. The bill adds a clause i.e. Article 342A(3) to allow states to maintain their list. The amendments done to existing articles are focused on Articles 342A(1) and 342A(2). These articles were brought in by the 102nd amendment act and they specify that the President would be responsible for specifying SEBCs. Thus, amendments will be made to these Articles 342A(1) and 342A(2) as well as Articles 366(26c) (which defines SEBCs) and 338B(9) (which deals with consultation by the governments before deciding on SEBCs). Through these amendments, the states will have the power to release their list of SEBCs without needing to seek permission and get the approval of the National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC).
Why was the bill introduced now and what is the need for it?
The amendment bill was brought in due to events in the Supreme Court where the 102nd amendment act was upheld in a popular judgment relating to reservation for the Maratha community. It was held that the NCBC would recommend the list of communities to be included in the SEBCs for states to the President who would then give assent to it. The NCBC thus got constitutional recognition and status while granting the President the ultimate power. This situation caused discontentment among the states who were not satisfied with the power resting in the NCBCs and the President. Therefore, the 127th amendment bill was brought in to give back power in the hands of the state governments on their list of SEBCs.
Reasons for opposition support
The Opposition decided to lend its support to the 127th amendment bill to get it passed and it raised a few eyebrows. However, while looking at how the issue of SEBCs have perpetually been contentious in various states, the move to support seems like a no-brainer. A huge number of regional political parties who are a part of the opposition and leaders in the ruling party have been vouching for states to have freedom to identify their SEBCs as they are better equipped in doing so than the NCBCS and the President. Further, it is also believed that the political angle was considered by the opposition parties to get more support. Not supporting the bill would have received backlash from the SEBCs.
Apart from the amendment bill, there have been other relevant developments as the topic of backward classes has been one that is subject to constant discussion and debate. The prospect of defining ‘creamy layer’ in backward classes depending on economic and social advancement has been proposed by certain MPs. Also, a committee led by Justice Rohini has been appointed to look into categorizing OBCs to remove certain oddities. Therefore, it seems almost certain that at least for the near future, the topic of OBCs and SEBCs will continue to be popular.