Lok Sabha passes bill to ensure 10% quota for poor in general category

A landmark bill seeking to provide 10 per cent reservation in jobs and education for the general category poor was passed by the Lok Sabha on Tuesday, with most parties backing the measure, described by the government as “historic” and in the country’s interest.

As many as 323 members voted in support of the bill and only three voted against, underlining the cross-party support the politically crucial bill elicited.

Replying to an over four-and-a-half hour debate, Social Justice Minister Thaavarchand Gehlot sought to allay doubts raised by several opposition members about the legislation’s fate if challenged in the Supreme Court, saying he can say with confidence that the apex court will accept it.

The Modi government’s policy and intention is good and that is why it has enabled the reservation for the poor in the general category with constitutional amendment, he said, seeking support of all parties for the passage of The Constitution (124th Amendment) Bill 2019.

“Your doubts are unfounded. Put them to rest,” he told opposition members, many of whom dubbed the bill as “jumla” and “gimmick”.

Gehlot claimed that the bill is in line with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s assertion when he assumed power in 2014 that his government would be devoted to the cause of the poor and work for “sabka saath sabka vikas”.

“This is an historic decision and in the interest of the country,” he said.

Modi and Congress president Rahul Gandhi were present in the House when the bill was passed. The government will table the bill in the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday.

What leaders said on the bill in Lok Sabha

Union Minister Arun Jaitley made a forceful pitch for the passage of the bill, saying almost every party, including the Congress, had supported the measure in their poll manifesto.

He rejected suggestions that the measure may fall foul of a Supreme Court judgment putting a cap of 50 per cent.

The bar, he added, is for caste-based reservations, while the bill seeks quota for the economically weaker sections in the general category.

Quoting the Supreme Court judgment, he said, “We are also of the opinion that the rule of 50 per cent applies only to reservation in favour of backward classes made under Article 16(4).”

Attempts were made earlier too by governments at the Centre and states in this regard but failed because they were done either through common statutory provisions or notifications, he said.

Jaitley expressed hope that the Bill will pass the test of the basic structure of the Constitution as it does not seek to alter that.

Clarifying the point that the law needs ratification of 50 per cent states he said “if you read Article 368 part III, amendment to fundamental rights does not require the approval of states.”

Citing example of amendment to Article 15 (5) with regard to promotion, he said, it was only done through Parliament approval. 

“We have to give equality of opportunity to citizens on caste basis and economic basis… just as equal cannot be treated unequally. Unequally cannot be treated equally,” he said.

Quoting from the Congress manifesto, which called for such a quota, he asked it to “walk its talk” by supporting the bill, describing it as a test for the opposition party.

All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen member Asaduddin Owaisi opposed the constitutional amendment bill in the Lok Sabha saying the bill is fraud on the constitution.

“I oppose this bill. This is a fraud on the Constitution,” he said.

He said the Constitution does not recognise economic backwardness.

He said: “This exercise is fraud since there is no empirical data and evidence.”

“This is a burden on states. May I know from the government that what will happen to Maratha reservation,” he asked.

Owaisi also said that the bill could be stuck in the Supreme Court.

Participating in the debate, Union Minister Anupriya Patel said reservation was provided based on population to the Other Backward Class category but not in such a manner to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.

She said the government has stated that caste based census will be carried out in 2021. 

She also asked whether the government would consider reservation in private sector.  

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