New Delhi, Jan. 9 (IANS): Ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, the Parliament on Wednesday passed a landmark Constitution amendment bill providing for 10 per cent reservation to upper castes in government jobs and higher educational institutions, with the Rajya Sabha voting it late in the night after rejecting a demand for referring it to a select committee for detailed scrutiny.
The House passed the Constitution (124th Amendment) Bill, 2019 — which was adopted by the Lok Sabha on Tuesday — with 165 members in its favour and seven against it in a division amidst broad support from the Congress and other opposition parties despite their reservations over its constitutional validity and the timing in view of the approaching elections.
Earlier, the House rejected an amendment moved by DMK member Kanimozhi and CPI(M)’s T.K. Rangarajan for referring the bill to a select committee for indepth scrutiny, with 155 voting against it and 18 for in a House of 244. Several other opposition amendments were also negative. A constitutional amendment needs a special majority of more than half of the House present and two-thirds of those present voting in favour of it.
The AIADMK, which is friendly with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), staged a walkout opposing the Bill with its member A. Navaneethakrishnan saying it violated the basic structure of the Constitution.
Social Justice Minister Thawarchand Gehlot called the bill historic and allayed fears that the legislation would face legal hurdles, saying since it is a constitutional amendment even the Supreme Court would accept it, should there be any challenge.
Intervening in the over eight-hour debate, Law and Justice Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said that the proposed quota would not breach the Supreme Court’s cap of 50 percent on overall reservations. He said the legislation would apply to both Central and state governments.
Senior Congress member and an eminent lawyer, Kapil Sibal, said the bill had been brought with “complete non-application of mind” and raised questions over the constitutionality of the bill and its implementation. Calling it a “jumla” (gimmick), Sibal said: “Kamal ka hamla, aur ek jumla (attack of lotus, one more gimmick).”
Trinamool Congress (TMC) MP Derek O’Brien accused the government of committing a “fraud with the poor and youth” on jobs and “spitting on the Constitution” by moving bills for passage without proper legislative scrutiny.
Samajwadi Party leader Ram Gopal Yadav said that since the government had now breached the 50 percent ceiling on reservations, it should give OBCs the benefit of quota in accordance with their population at 54 per cent.
BSP member Satish Chandra Misra backed the bill and demanded that minorities also be given reservation.