123rd Constitutional Amendment Bill

The 123rd Amendment Bill, 2017 was introduced in Lok Sabha by the Minister of Social Justice and Empowerment on April 5, 2017.

Aim | 123rd Amendment Bill

It seeks to grant the National Commission on Backward Classes (NCBC) constitutional status, at par with the National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC) and the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes.

Present status | 123rd Amendment Bill

  • Currently, under the Constitution the NCSC has the power to look into complaints and welfare measures with regard to Scheduled Castes, backward classes and Anglo-Indians.
  • The Bill seeks to remove the power of the NCSC to examine matters related to backward classes.
  • The NCBC is a body set up under the National Commission for Backward Classes Act, 1993.  It has the power to examine complaints regarding inclusion or exclusion of groups within the list of backward classes, and advise the central government in this regard.

Highlights | 123rd Amendment Bill

  • The Bill seeks to establish the NCBC under the Constitution, and provide it the authority to examine complaints and welfare measures regarding socially and educationally backward classes.
  • The Bill states that the President may specify the socially and educationally backward classes in the various states and union territories.  He may do this in consultation with the Governor of the concerned state.  However, a law of Parliament will be required if the list of backward classes is to be amended.
  • Under the bill, the NCBC will comprise of five members appointed by the President.  Their tenure and conditions of service will also be decided by the President through rules.
  • The central and state governments will be required to consult with the NCBC on all major policy matters affecting the socially and educationally backward classes.

Functions | 123rd Amendment Bill

  • Under the Constitution Amendment Bill, the duties of the NCBC will include –
  1. investigating and monitoring how safeguards provided to the backward classes under the Constitution and other laws are being implemented,
  2. inquiring into specific complaints regarding violation of rights, and
  3. advising and making recommendations on socio-economic development of such classes.
  • The NCBC will be required to present annual reports to the President on working of the safeguards for backward classes.  These reports will be tabled in Parliament, and in the state legislative assemblies of the concerned states.
  • The NCBC will have the powers of a civil court while investigating or inquiring into any compla These powers include –
  1. summoning people and examining them on oath,
  2. requiring production of any document or public record, and
  3. receiving evidence.

Analysis | 123rd Amendment Bill

  • OBCs at par with SCs and STs – special provisioning for SCs and STs is premised on their historical and social discrimination. The Amendment delinks the Commission for Backward Classes from Article 340 (which provides for socially and economically backward classes) and by introducing Article 338B (on the lines of 338 and 338A) puts OBCs on par with SCs and STs. It thus blurs the line between caste and class based discrimination – developmental issues related to OBCs stand to be put on par with caste discrimination and untouchability suffered by SCs and STs.
  • Expanded definition of OBCs – the Act will amend Article 366 which contains basic definitions of important terms – herein SC and ST are defined. There is now anticipation of an altered definition of OBCs, taking it beyond its current confinement to social and educational criteria. This can have political fallouts like a possible extension of reservation to socially dominant castes like Jats, Marathas and Patidars etc. Any such extension of reservation would breach the 50% limit set by the Supreme Court on reservations.
  • However, a positive implication is inclusion/ exclusion of OBC list will now be sanctioned by the Parliament. This will prevent petty state politics based on appeasing classes for political benefit.

Conclusion | 123rd Amendment Bill

Welfare system of any modern state must be based on a progressive social justice architecture. Reservations must not be relied on as a welfare programme. The way out is a development paradigm that is inclusive in its provisioning of opportunities for growth, not in its provisioning of reservations.

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