LS passes amendment bill to accord OBC Commission constitutional status (Roundup)

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New Delhi : The Lok Sabha on Thursday passed an amendment bill to give constitutional status to the OBC Commission by approving alternate amendments to those adopted by the Rajya Sabha.

The Constitution (One Hundred and Twenty-third Amendment) Bill was passed through a division with all 406 members present in the House voting in its favour.

Replying to the debate on bill, Social Justice and Empowerment Minister Thaawarchand Gehlot said the Narendra Modi government had promised to accord constitutional status to the National Commission on Backward Classes (NCBC).

"Modi government had announced that it will work for the poor and it has lived to its promise... We have done, what we had promised," he said.

Prime Minister Modi was present in the Lok Sabha when the amendment bill was passed with a majority of total members present and not less than two-thirds of those present and voting.

Officials said it was a very rare instance of the Lok Sabha adopting "amendment alternative to the amendment made by the Rajya Sabha". The bill will again go the upper House for its approval.

The bill is seen as a push by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to consolidate its support among OBCs ahead of the state elections later this year and the Lok Sabha elections early next year.

The party is expected to highlight its efforts to get the bill passed in its election campaigns in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, where OBCs form a large chunk of population. It is also likely to raise the issue strongly during the campaign for the Lok Sabha elections.

Several BJP members spoke on the bill and accused the Congress of not caring for the interests of OBCs.

The alternate amendments moved by the Minister substituted the amendments made by the upper House when it passed the bill on July 31 last year. The bill was passed by Lok Sabha on April 10, 2017.

Gehlot also took a dig at the Congress, saying its members had supported the bill in the Lok Sabha last year but had changed their stance in the Rajya Sabha.

He said that the rules will be framed to ensure that one of the members of the commission is a woman.

Gehlot also said that the Modi government "will succeed" in getting reservation for SCs, STs and OBCs in the Jamia Millia Islamia and the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), as these were central universities.

He said the Central government is presenting its viewpoint before the court.

"We assure that these are central universities and we will succeed in getting reservation for the Scheduled Castes (SC), Scheduled Tribes (ST) and the Other Backward Classes (OBC)."

The Minister said the two universities were declared minority institutions during the Congress rule.

Gehlot said the Modi government has taken a bold decision to set up a panel for sub-categorisation of backward classes and will act swiftly on getting the report. "The categorisation will be done actively to undo the injustice done to them," he said.

He said the government had set up the National Commission for Denotified, Nomadic and Semi-Nomadic Tribes (NCDNT) and had sought comments from states on its report.

During the debate some members suggested to conduct a census to ascertain the population of other backward classes (OBCs). There was also a demand to make public socio-economic survey of 2014.

The bill seeks to grant NCBC constitutional status at par with the National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC) and the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST).

While setting up the NCBC as a constitutional body, the bill seeks to provide it authority to examine complaints and welfare measures regarding socially and educationally backward classes.

The amendments moved by BJD's Bhartruhari Mahtab were rejected with 302 votes against it and 84 in favour.

Officials said the bill returned from the upper House had deleted Clause 3.

The Congress members in the Rajya Sabha had moved an amendment to Clause 3 of the bill seeking to have a woman and a person from the minority community as its members.

Gehlot said that the suggestion for "religion-based reservation" in composition of the commission is unconstitutional.