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Why OBC quota in women's Bill is a problem

Why OBC quota in women's Bill is a problem

Parliamentarians in the Lok Sabha during the special session of the Parliament, in New Delhi, on Wednesday, September 20, 2023. PTI



Tribune News Service

Aditi Tandon

New Delhi, September 20

Even as the Opposition raises the pitch for OBC quota within the women’s reservation Bill, the Constitution, as it stands, does not provide for political reservation to other backward classes (OBCs) in the Lok Sabha or state Assemblies.

No provision in Constitution

The Constitution does not provide for political reservation to other backward classes in the Lok Sabha or state Assemblies.

This is unlike the political reservation of 15 per cent and 7.5 per cent available to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in the Constitution.

A look back at the history of women’s quota Bill reveals Geeta Mukherjee-led joint parliamentary panel which examined its first draft tabled under then PM HD Deve Gowda in September 1996, recommended that reservation be given to women from backward sections “once the Constitution is amended to permit OBC quota”. The joint committee also recommended reservation for women in the Rajya Sabha and state Legislative Councils which is not permitted by the Constitution.

The report with respect to the OBC reservation was not heeded by any government that brought the women’s quota Bill after it lapsed with the dissolution of 11th Lok Sabha in 1997. Even the Women’s Reservation Bill passed by the Rajya Sabha on March 9, 2010, under the then Congress-led UPA government did not provide for OBC quota. It was this missing OBC pie that provoked Congress’ allies SP and RJD to oppose the Bill tooth and nail. After passing the RS test in 2010, the Bill was referred to the Lok Sabha on March 12, 2010, and became a property of the LS. Once the 15th Lok Sabha dissolved in May 2014, the Bill lapsed under provisions of Article 107 of the Constitution which says all pending Bills in the Lok Sabha will lapse with the House dissolution.

“Only once the Constitution is amended to provide political reservation to OBCs can any backward sub-quota kick in. As of today OBC reservation in women’s Bill is not possible because the Constitution mandates gender equal quotas. The existing SC/ST quota in the Constitution applies to both men and women. So even the premise of the demand of OBC women quota today is unconstitutional as it seeks a reservation benefit for backward women leaving backward men out,” sources said. The Opposition’s pro-caste census push is also meant to create a ground for political reservation to OBCs.

The women’s Bill passed by the Lok Sabha today provides for one-third women’s reservation within the existing SC/ST quota under the Constitution, with benefits partly continuing to be available to men also.

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