Is the new commission for OBCs a conspiracy against reservation?
In all the melee over the Union government's decision to set up a new commission for Other Backward Classes (OBC), one critical question has been glossed over so far. If creating a constitutional body was all that the government wanted to do, why did it not simply decide to grant constitutional status to the existing National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC)? Why go through all the trouble of dissolving an existing body, attempting a Constitutional amendment, and setting up an entirely new structure?
The Union cabinet has reportedly given its consent to the creation of a new National Commission for Socially and Educationally Backward Classes, which will be a constitutional body (NSEBC).
The proposed commission would comprise of a chairperson, a vice-chairperson and three other members. A Bill for the purpose will soon be drafted and brought to Parliament. This new commission will replace the NCBC, which itself was established through an Act of Parliament in 1993, following a historic Supreme Court directive.
The question of constitutional status
The NCBC does not have constitutional status, which prevents it from monitoring the implementation of its recommendations and review the OBC status of communities.
There was a long-standing demand to accord constitutional status to the NCBC, in keeping with the original SC order. However, that never happened, and the commission lagged behind its counterparts like the National Commission for Scheduled Castes and the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes in terms of powers.
Under Narendra Modi's NDA government, the NCBC's position had deteriorated further. It has remained without a chairman since September 2016, its three members also retired subsequently, and none of these posts have been filled up so far. Now, reports suggest that the Cabinet has also decided to dissolve NCBC and repeal the 1993 Act that created it.
The problematic part is that this is being widely projected as an upgrade to the previous commission, and a 'historic' step by the NDA government to give the commission more teeth by giving it constitutional status.
The government has not answered so far why doesn't it simply want to accord constitutional status to the existing commission instead of setting up a new commission altogether. That, in any case, is likely to be a long-drawn process since it will have to be done through a constitutional amendment, and that will call for the support of 2/3rds of the total members of Parliament. For this, the BJP will have to reach out to parties on Opposition benches as well.
Opposition to the government's move
Opposition parties have already indicated their stand on the subject.
The issue created one round of confrontation in Parliament, as Samajwadi Party's Ramgopal Yadav alleged in the Rajya Sabha that the move was a part of a larger 'conspiracy' to get rid of reservation.
Yadav's contention was also supported by the Congress and the Bahujan Samaj Party in the upper house, forcing Social Justice Minister Thawar Chand Gehlot to issue a clarification.
However, even Gehlot kept harping upon the 'constitutional status' and offered no explanation as to why was a new body needed.
No need for new commission
There is speculation that the decision was taken in order to trigger the process of considering demands of Jats and Patidars to be given OBC status.
However, even that could have been done keeping the NCBC in the picture, with no need for a new commission.
Dr Shakeel-Uz-Zaman Ansari, the last member of the NCBC to retire, in February 2017, told Catch that if the government did not have any wrong intent, then the NCBC itself should have been granted constitutional status.
Ansari, a secretary of the All India Congress Committee, said the critical question was when the new commission would be set up, and who would have the power to identify communities for inclusion and exclusion in the central OBC list.
He said if the government decided to keep the power with itself, that would be a violation of the SC's order in the landmark Indra Sawhney judgement of 1992.