Rajya Sabha

August 6, 2018

Ahamed Hassan speaks on The Constitution (123rd Amendment) Bill, 2017

Ahamed Hassan speaks on The Constitution (123rd Amendment) Bill, 2017


Chairman Sir, I would like to thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak on this very important and landmark Bill. The National Commission for Backward Classes was set up under the National Commission for Backward Classes Act, 1993. If we pass this Bill today, the Commission will receive constitutional status. This is indeed an important moment in our constitutional history. It must be pointed out that this Bill has gone back and forth between the two Houses of Parliament. When this Bill was initially sent to this House, it was referred to a Select Committee.

Subsequently, this House returned the Bill to the Lok Sabha with a few amendments. What we have received today from the Lower House is the same version of the Bill that was debated exactly a year ago during Monsoon Session of 2017. The Lok Sabha, in its wisdom, has not accepted the suggestions that were made in this House regarding the composition of the panel. The Minister, however, gave his word to the Lok Sabha that once the Rules are framed, the inclusion of a woman member in the panel will be ensured.

Sir, it is important to understand the need for such representation. The unique perspective of women belonging to backward classes is essential as their lived experiences make them uniquely suitable to guide the Panel on issues concerning women belonging to backward classes. I hope the Minister delivers on his promise to the Lower House.

Sir, it must be pointed out, however, that a major issue with the Bill still remains. Last year, when this Bill was debated in this House, my party had made its stand clear. We felt that this Bill unduly interferes in states’ rights. This Bill gives power to the President to add to the list of backward classes for a given State after consulting the Governor. My colleague, Mr. Sukhendu Sekhar Roy had submitted a dissent note in the Select Committee. Our party believes that such a provision erodes the federal structure of our polity.

The Bill seeks to create a Commission that has sweeping powers and centralised authority. The language in the Bill does not suggest that the President is bound by the advice given to him by the Governor on inclusion of communities into the list of backward classes. The President is merely supposed to consult the Governor. This undermines the role of State Governments, Sir. As pointed out by my party last time, Sir, it is the State Governments that have a closer role to play in the day to day lives of the people of this country. Implementation of schemes and provision of basic welfare services falls within the domain of the States. This places State Governments in a unique position to understand the specific needs and aspirations of specific communities.

Therefore, when one is speaking of the State List for Backward Classes, it must always be the sole prerogative of the State Governments to add communities to this List. The Commission at the national level shall not be as equipped as the States to understand these unique needs. We further believe that the requirement of consulting the Commission on matters relating to major policy matters affecting socially and economically backward classes must not be mandatory when dealing with matters in the State List in the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution.

Sir, under this government, there has been a creeping encroachment into state rights and these provisions shall have the same effect. I urge the Minister to consider this and clarify how States’ rights in this important matter shall be preserved if this Bill is passed. I do commend this Bill for giving Constitutional Status to the National Commission for Backward Classes but do place on record these reservations. Thank you, Sir.