New Delhi: The Lok Sabha on Tuesday passed the Bill to grant 10 per cent quota to economically weaker sections from the general category, with 323 of the 326 members present in the House voting in favour of it. The government will table the bill in the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday.

While opposition parties questioned the timing of the government’s move, calling it an “election gimmick”, the Congress, Samajwadi Party, Trinamool Congress, TRS and the Left said they would support the bill. On the other hand, Tamil Nadu’s ruling AIADMK walked out before the voting.

The Constitution (124th Amendment) Bill 2019, approved by the Union Cabinet on Monday, was brought in on the last day of the Winter Session of Lok Sabha.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi termed the passage of the Bill as a “landmark moment in nation’s history” and thanked the Parliament members of all parties for supporting the Bill.

“The passage of The Constitution (One Hundred And Twenty-Fourth Amendment) Bill, 2019 in the Lok Sabha is a landmark moment in our nation’s history. It sets into motion the process to achieve an effective measure that ensures justice for all sections of society,” tweeted PM Modi.

“I thank MPs from all the parties who supported The Constitution (One Hundred And Twenty-Fourth Amendment) Bill, 2019 in the Lok Sabha. I also appreciate those MP colleagues who enriched today’s debate with their views,” he added.

“We are resolutely committed to the principle of ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas.’ It is our endeavour to ensure that every poor person, irrespective of caste or creed gets to lead a life of dignity, and gets access to all possible opportunities,” the prime minister said.

Replying to an over four-and-half-hour debate, Social Justice Minister Thaavarchand Gehlot sought to allay doubts raised by several opposition members about the legislation’s fate if challenged in the Supreme Court, saying he can say with confidence that the apex court will accept it.

“Your doubts are unfounded. Put them to rest,” he told opposition members, many of whom dubbed the bill as “jumla” and “gimmick”, questioned its legal standing and accused the government of bringing it in haste with an eye on the Lok Sabha polls.

Gehlot claimed that the bill is in line with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s assertion when he assumed power in 2014 that his government would be devoted to the cause of the poor and work for “sabka saath sabka vikas” (With all, development for all).

“This is an historic decision and in the interest of the country,” he said.

PM Modi, Congress president Rahul Gandhi and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi were present in the House when the bill was passed.

Earlier in the day, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley made a forceful pitch for the passage of a bill, saying that almost every party, including the Congress, had supported the measure in their poll manifesto.

Making an intervention in the Lok Sabha during a debate on the constitutional amendment bill, he rejected suggestions that the measure may fall foul of a Supreme Court judgement putting a cap of 50 per cent at the total quota.

Several Hurdles to Make Implementation of Quota For Economically Backward Upper Castes a Tightrope Walk

Several Hurdles to Make Implementation of Quota For Economically Backward Upper Castes a Tightrope Walk

Opposition parties are likely to question the government on Wednesday in the Rajya Sabha, where the ruling block lacks majority, over the timing of the general category reservation bill and have asked all their members to be present in full strength, sources said.

While virtually all parties supported the passage of the bill that provides 10 per cent quota for the general category poor in jobs and education in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday, the sources said they are likely to take a tougher stand in the Rajya Sabha on the basis of their sheer numbers.

With 73 MPs, the BJP has the highest number of seats in the house, which currently has a strength of 244. This is followed by the Congress which has 50 members.

The sources also said members of opposition parties are upset over the extension of the Rajya Sabha proceedings by a day and will protest in the house.

About the Bill

According to the Bill, “At present, the economically weaker sections of citizens have largely remained excluded from attending the higher educational institutions and public employment on account of their financial incapacity to compete with the persons who are economically more privileged.”

The Bill seeks to amend Article 15 of the Constitution, by adding a clause which allows states to make “special provision for the advancement of any economically weaker sections of citizens”.

These “special provisions” would relate to “their admission to educational institutions, including private educational institutions, whether aided or unaided by the state, other than the minority educational institutions”.

It also makes it clear that reservation would be “in addition to the existing reservations and subject to a maximum of ten per cent of the total seats in each category”.

“The directive principles of state policy contained in Article 46 of the Constitution enjoins that the State shall promote with special care the educational and economic interests of the weaker sections of the people, and, in particular, of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes, and shall protect them from social injustice and all forms of exploitation,” it pointed out.

It said economically weaker sections of citizens were not eligible for the benefit of reservation.

“With a view to fulfil the mandate of Article 46, and to ensure that economically weaker sections of citizens get a fair chance of receiving higher education and participation in employment in the services of the State, it has been decided to amend the Constitution of India,” the statement of objects of the bill said.