On April 10, the Lok Sabha passed the Constitution (123rd) Amendment Bill to pave the way for the creation of a new National Commission for Backward Classes as a constitutional body. To be passed, a Constitutional Amendment Bill requires two thirds majority in the Lok Sabha. The Lok Sabha voted in favour of the amendment with 360 MP’s supporting it and two opposing it. The Lok Sabha also repealed the National Commission for Backward Classes Act 1993, under which the National Commission for Backward Classes had been constituted as a statutory body. The bill has now gone before the Rajya Sabha for a vote. The Rajya Sabha has referred it to a Select Committee.
The Bill proposes to insert Article 338B into the Constitution after Articles 338 and 338A which deal with the National Commissions for Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST) respectively. The proposed Article 338B states: “There shall be a Commission for the socially and educationally backward classes to be known as the National Commission for Backward Classes.”
Once the NCBC becomes a Constitutional body, it will acquire powers on par with the equivalent bodies for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. It will have the status of civil courts, which means that it can take cognizance of the complaints and grievances of the members of the castes and communities it represents and is empowered to initiate legal action to redress them. So far this function was discharged by the National Commission for Scheduled Castes.
Once the NCBC becomes a constitutional body, the power to revise the Central list of backward classes will be transferred from the Central government to parliament. The bill adds a new article 342A according to which the President may, by public notification, specify socially and educationally backward classes.
The move to make the NCBC a Constitutional Body must be seen in the light of the phenomenon of growing caste mobilistion among agricultural households, including those who were once considered prosperous land owners, such as Jats in Haryana and UP, the Marathas in Maharashtra and Patidars in Gujarat. With agriculture becoming less and less remunerative, youth from many such farm households are seeking access to higher education, as the route to a salaried job. These conditions have given rise to the demand for expansion the list of OBC's. Ever since caste-based reservation of seats in higher educational institutions started taking place on a wide scale since 2010, such agitations have been on the rise.
Will the new bill impact the right of state governments to maintain and revise their own list of OBC's? Will this right only belong to the central parliament? These questions are being raised by leaders of opposition parties. On the other hand, the Central government has pointed out that notification of new castes in the list of OBC's in a particular state will be carried out by the President in consultation with the State governor.
Giving Constitutional Status to the NCBC will neither address the problem of lack of education and employment opportunities for our youth nor the problems of social and educational backwardness of particular castes.
The Indian ruling class and its political parties are past-masters in the art of fomenting divisions amongst our people on the basis of caste, religion, region, language and ethnicity, and then clamping down on . They want to ensure that the working people do not unite on the basis of their common class interest, against the economic and political system which is the common source of all their problems, and against the ruling capitalist class which is their common enemy.
People need to exercise utmost vigilance in the face of the divisive politics and diabolical plots of the ruling class.