Indian Constitution is famous for the social engineering of a traditional society, to transform it from the traditional hierarchical order into a modern egalitarian country, where positive discrimination in the favor of least advantaged sections of the society, is looked as a mechanism for development and growth. In fact, Right to Equality enshrined in Article 15 and Article 16 aims to materialize the desire of Constitution makers of India to bring comprehensive growth to people of India. One of the mechanisms to ensure equality is the idea of reservation in education in the state-run institution as well as employment in the government and public sector. With regard to Schedule Castes and Schedule Tribes case of the reservation is pretty straightforward. However, the story of reservation has seen many ups and downs in the case of the Other Backward Communities.
In India, there has been a history of the backwardness of communities outside of the pale of schedule castes and tribes. Caste System in our country is an intricate web of social organization where caste identities inform individual’s place in the traditional social order. However, the problem with the caste system is that in the name of social status it has led to the exploitation and outright torture of the lower castes over the millennia, warranting the scathe of leaders like Baba Sahib Ambedkar, Jyotiba Phule and others. It is to ensure the holistic development of people from the lower castes under the aegis of the Indian welfare state, reservation is given. Historically, OBCs are those communities which fall in between the lowest rungs of castes and the higher castes. Their predicament is socio-economic backwardness. To assess their backwardness various committees from Kalekar Committee to Mandal Committee were constitutes to identify the communities which are materially backward, in order to bring them under the umbrella of State sponsored welfare. It is in this light that the Hundred and Twenty Seventh Constitution Amendment Bill, 2021 needs to be viewed.
127th Constitution Amendment Bill: States right to make Inclusive OBC list
The recent amendment bill was introduced after years of institutionalization of the reservation mechanisms for the OBC’s. Beginning from the giving the constitutional stature to the National Commission for the Backward Communities in 2017, the NCBC was made the nodal agency to deal with the issues regarding OBCs including a crucial aspect of grievance redressal which was being dealt by the National Commission for Schedule Castes. The amendment gave a strong footing to the OBCs by ensuring the institutional mechanism and constitutional status. However, in recent past there have been many issues which have cropped up with regard to inclusion/exclusion of communities in the OBC list. One of the major stirs was caused by the demand for the OBC status to Maratha community in Maharashtra. This demand has seen litigations and counter litigations in various echelons of Judiciary. But the Hon’ble Supreme Court judgment of 2021 categorically made Central Government the gatekeeper of OBC list. It put the Centre in an awkward position since it has been the states which are primarily responsible for the welfare of their domicile. Also through this judgement, by one estimation, around 671 communities were kept out of the ambit of OBC category, keeping them away from the benefits that this reservation entails.
The effectivity of 127th Constitution Amendment Bill 2021 must be assessed against this background. The amendment has given states the power to add communities to OBC list. It has given NCBC the power to be consulted by states in the matter concerning OBCs. It is an important amendment for various reasons. Firstly, this amendment allows state governments to add communities to the OBC lists that they deem fit. This clause is significant because it allows the benefits of OBC reservation to reach to the grassroot level. Secondly, it consolidates the position of NCBC, by mandating states to hold consultation with this constitutional body in all matters related to OBCs. Furthermore, this amendment must be seen in the light of evolution of the OBC reservation from ad-hocism of early days to the greater institutionalization of mechanisms that deals with the issues of OBCs, ranging from constitutional status of NCBC to concrete role for states in maintaining their OBC lists. The more clarity in this respect is a welcome step as it will only strengthen the welfare measures for the weaker sections of our society as espoused in the Constitution of India.
The implication of 127th Constitution Amendment Bill are far and wide. It is a fact that the social structure and hierarchies in India have remained unchanged even after reservation given to the weaker communities, the composition of the elites in our country is heavily tilted towards the forward castes. Reservation as a tool of positive discrimination can be used to alter the social order to the benefit of those who have been exploited at its hands for millenniums. More importantly, the justice that laws like this will impart will also ensure social equality, and eventually may even alter the composition of the elites in our country. On the eve of 75th anniversary of India’s Independence, a providential step was taken by honorable Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi for the benefits of backward communities of India. This decision is going to be a milestone for creating a new identity of a New India.
Conversely the significance of this constitutional amendment points to the greater need of development and growth in our society, a growth that would reach to every individual of India, so that the need for reservation will become redundant. The fact that numerous communities need the cover of OBC categorization is related with the idea that there is a huge scope for societal development in India even after 74 years of our independence. This is a grim reality that needs further introspection and policy innovation. Also, one concern that rises from this amendment is the crystallization of revolving door policy with regard to OBC reservation, as states will be compelled by the local politics to add newer communities into their respective OBC lists. This aspect needs to be kept in mind, lest we end up diluting the effects of this path breaking amendment.
In conclusion, the Constitution Amendment Bill has brought ample amount of clarity in the standard operating procedures of functioning of OBC reservation. It also has a huge potential to empower the people from backward communities, enhancing their social status through good education and employment opportunities, paving the way for inclusive development. In the times of COVID-19 and economic hardships, 127th Constitution Amendment Bill will be able to bridge the widening gulf of destitution and poverty. It will ensure representation and empowerment to the communities that fall in the cracks of development discourse in our country.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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