Caste in stone

Source:  Busines Standard, TOI

Relevance: To understand the impact of the 127th Amendment act.

Synopsis: Recently GoI passed legislation to enable states to declare their own OBC list. Many argue that it strengthens federalism, but we must also consider the socio-political turmoil it may cause.

Introduction:
  • Article 340 provided special protection and benefits to SC/ST. Further, it also provided a clause of socially and economically backward classes (SEBC) which was used to extend quota to OBC’s. Further, Article 15(4), 15(5), 16(4) empower states to identify SEBC’s (Socio-economic Backward Class)
  • But the 102nd amendment act granted this power to the centre. The immediate backdrop was the SC ruling that struck down the Maharashtra government’s move to grant quota to Maratha citing that the 102nd amendment act gives this power to the President, based on the recommendation of National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC).
  • As a response, GOI passed the 127th amendment bill. The bill seeks to rectify Article 338B, (Inserted by 102nd Amendment Act 2008), which created NCBC as a constitutional entity.

Read more: Lok Sabha passes Constitution amendment Bill to restore states’ powers on OBC list

Changes brought by the current bill:
  • It enables States and UT’s to frame their own list
  • They can do this without consulting NCBC
  • Political parties are further arguing for a caste census as a result of SECC was not published.
The consequences of such a move could be dangerous:
  • Till now this exercise was carried out by a constitutional process and constitutional bodies, now it may become a political exercise.
  • Numerous sub-castes will scramble for quotas, leading to socio-political turmoil.
  • Any group which has sufficient socio-economic power can demand and get quotas. e.g. Patidars, Marathas, Jats etc.
  • Soon caste will begin to demand sub-categorization – i.e. Quota within quota.
  • This may shift the political narrative from employment generation to seeking/granting quotas.
Way forward:
  • Proportional quota, where the quantum of quota is based on the proportion of their population will better meet the requirements of affirmative action than just granting blanket quota to any group that demands it.

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