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Upper caste quota Bill clears Parliament | PM Modi hails it as victory of social justice

The Rajya Sabha late on Wednesday passed the Constitution (124th Amendment) Bill, 2019 making 10 per cent reservation to upper castes in government jobs and higher educational institutions a law.

SNS | New Delhi |

The Rajya Sabha late on Wednesday passed the Constitution (124th Amendment) Bill, 2019 making 10 per cent reservation to upper castes in government jobs and higher educational institutions a law. On Tuesday, the Lok Sabha had passed the landmark Constitution amendment bill.

Though there was heated debate in the upper house of Parliament that went on for the entire day, the Bill was passed 165-7 with the Congress and other opposition parties swallowing their reservations.

Cleared by both Houses, the Bill will now go to the President for his assent before it becomes an Act of Parliament.

In a series of Tweets late on Wednesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi hailed the passage of the Bill in the upper house. He said that the passing of the Bill should be seen as a tribute to the makers of Constitution and freedom fighters who envisioned an inclusive India.

“Delighted the Rajya Sabha has passed The Constitution (One Hundred And Twenty-Fourth Amendment) Bill, 2019. Glad to see such widespread support for the Bill,” he wrote.

“The House also witnessed a vibrant debate, where several members expressed their insightful opinions,” the PM added.

“Passage of The Constitution (One Hundred And Twenty-Fourth Amendment) Bill, 2019 in both Houses of Parliament is a victory for social justice. It ensures a wider canvas for our Yuva Shakti to showcase their prowess and contribute towards India’s transformation,” the PM underlined.

“By passing The Constitution (One Hundred And Twenty-Fourth Amendment) Bill, 2019, we pay tributes to the makers of our Constitution and the great freedom fighters, who envisioned an India that is strong and inclusive,” the PM concluded.

During the 9-hour debate in the House, the opposition parities did question the timing of the Bill in view of the approaching elections but did not block the passage largely due to the same reasons.

A demand for referring the Bill to a select committee for detailed scrutiny was also rejected. An amendment calling for a scrutiny had been moved by Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leader Kanimozhi and Communist Party of India (Marxist) TK Rangarajan. Of the 244 members present, 155 voted against it and 18 in favour.

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.

Rejecting the opposition criticism that the bill was brought late in the government’s tenure with an eye on upper caste votes in the coming Lok Sabha elections, Social Justice Minister Thawarchand Gehlot said the measure had been brought with good intentions and was aimed at justice for the economically weaker sections.

He 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.

The Minister told the Congress party that unlike the Narasimha Rao government which issued a government order to implement a similar quota, the Modi government had taken precaution by bringing in a statute amendment.

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 per cent 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.

“If the bill is passed, the implementation of the reservation due to complexities involved and absence of required data with the government would be like demonetisation.”

Calling it a “jumla” (gimmick), Sibal said, “Kamal ka hamla, aur ek jumla (attack of lotus, one more gimmick).”

“What was the hurry? The bill could have been sent to the Select Committee. There would have been discussions and suggestions before it was introduced (in Parliament),” he said.

Earlier, his party colleague and deputy leader in the House, Anand Sharma, welcomed the 10 per cent quota for the upper caste poor but questioned its timing as it comes ahead of the Lok Sabha elections.

“We are not opposing it. But the question is why it is being brought all of a sudden. It is the last session (of Parliament)…then there are elections,” he said.

He asked why the BJP did not bring the bill in its four-and-half years of rule and emphasised that the decision came after the saffron party lost five states in the recently-concluded Assembly elections.

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 per cent 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.

BJP President Amit Shah, who was present during the entire debate, at one point intervened to accuse the opposition of trying to give quotas for Muslims at the cost of other communities.