Explained: Why OBC Bill Is Electorally Important

The Parliament cleared the electorally important OBC Bill in the run-up to assembly elections in key states next year.

The OBC Bill, 2021 was passed by the Rajya Sabha with a two-thirds majority on Wednesday. The opposition and treasury benches displayed a rare moment of cooperation in the Parliament approving a legislation, that empowers states to draft their own list of Other Backward Castes (OBCs), to ensure reservation in jobs and higher education to people belonging to these castes.

The opposition temporarily suspended their disruption of the parliamentary proceedings in both houses and allowed debate and voting on the politically significant legislation. The Monsoon Session was almost washed out due to frequent disruptions with the opposition demanding a debate on the Pegasus snooping scandal and the farmers' protests.

The 181 members, including the Opposition, who were present in the upper house voted in favour of the Constitution (One Hundred and Twenty-Seventh) Amendment Bill, 2021 which fulfills the demands made by regional parties and OBCs leaders.

The Centre had introduced the OBC bill in the Lok Sabha on Monday after the Supreme Court in its Maratha Reservation judgment took away the states' power to decide and identify Socially and Economically Backward Classes (SEBCs), usually called OBCs.

The OBC Act, 2021 will have political ramifications since many regional parties, including BJP's OBC leaders, demanded states be given the power to notify or denotify backward classes.

The successful passage of the OBC Bill will prove to be critical in light of the run-up to assembly elections in key states next year. This new act will help all parties garner support from the OBC communities in key poll-bound states, especially Uttar Pradesh, in 2022.

Also Read: SC Strikes Down Maratha Reservation Act For Exceeding 50% Ceiling

Why was the OBC bill introduced?

The Supreme Court on May 5 in its Maratha Reservation judgment had observed that the Centre's 2018 Constitutional Amendment empowered the President alone to decide on the status of backward communities. The top court's interpretation affected the status of more than 671 backward castes notified by states across the country.

The judgment in the Maratha Reservation matter had also gone against the Centre's stand that the inclusion of new clauses in the 2018 amendment did not rob the states of their power to take decisions.

Since the Centre on July 1 lost its appeal against the May 5 judgment, the OBC Bill, 2021 was an attempt to sidestep the top court's judgment.

Also Read: BJP Corners 74.2% Of Sale Of Electoral Bonds In FY20: ADR Data

Why did the Supreme Court intervene?

In May, while scrapping a separate quota for the Maratha community in Maharashtra, the apex court had observed that the Centre's 2018 amendment allowed only the Centre to notify socially and educationally backward classes (SEBCs). The states could not.

In 2018, Maharashtra had carved out a 16% quota in jobs and education for the Marathas based on the suggestions made by the 11-member Maharashtra State Backward Class Commission (MSBCC) led by former high court judge MG Gaikwad. After surveying 45,000 families, the committee report—running into more than 1000 pages—had concluded that the Marathas were socially, economically, and educationally backward.

The high court in 2019 had allowed the quota but capped the same at 12% for jobs, and 13% for education. The high court had said that the 50% ceiling—set in the apex court's 1992 Indra Sawhney verdict—could be overlooked under "exceptional and extraordinary circumstances".

This reservation was challenged in the Supreme Court.

Though the crux of the issue was essentially over the justification of the 68% reservation in Maharashtra, questions were also raised on the 50% cap on quotas that was laid down in the SC's 1992 Indra Sawhney verdict.

During arguments, questions had arisen on the constitutional validity of the Centre's 2018 amendment which resulted in the top court's contested ruling.

Updated On: 2021-08-12T19:11:23+05:30
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