Finance Minister Arun Jaitley told the Lok Sabha on Tuesday that the Congress, in its 2014 Lok Sabha election manifesto, had promised reservations for economically weaker sections of society. He made the remark while the Lower House was discussing the government’s bill proposing that the economically poor among upper castes be granted 10% reservation.
“I request all to support the motion,” Jaitley said, after the government introduced the The Constitution (One Hundred and Twenty-Fourth Amendment) Bill, 2019 in the Lok Sabha, the Hindustan Times reported. The finance minister claimed that the manifestos of most parties promise quotas to economically weaker sections, and that “their commitment to their promise is put to test today”.
Jaitley said the approval of state governments is not required for amendments to Articles of the Constitution related to fundamental rights. “Just as equals cannot be treated unequally, unequals cannot be treated equally,” he added.
Congress MP KV Thomas claimed that the Centre has been hasty in introducing the bill, and accused the government of introducing the bill with an eye on the General Elections. Thomas said that while reservations based on caste are meant only for aided institutions, this bill introduces quotas in unaided institutions too.
“Do you call people earning Rs 63,000 per month poor?” he asked. Thomas accused the Centre of “butchering democracy”, adding that there was no time to even read the bill fully. He said the Congress is not opposed to the bill, but demanded it be sent to a Joint Parliamentary Committee.
All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam MP and Lok Sabha Deputy Speaker M Thambidurai opposed the bill, saying that economically weaker sections of society are already entitled to the benefits of several government schemes. “Untouchability is still practiced in India,” he said. “Reservations [based on caste] should continue until casteism exists.”
Thambidurai claimed that had Prime Minister Narendra Modi fulfilled his promise of depositing Rs 15 lakh in every person’s account, this bill would have been unnecessary.
Trinamool Congress MP Sudip Bandyopadhyay wondered whether the bill will solve the problem of unemployment. “There over 85,000 vacancies in the Railways,” he said. “Over 25 million people have applied for them.” Bandyopadhyay also asked why the Centre did not take up the Women’s Reservation Bill with the same haste.
Shiv Sena legislator Anandrao Adsul said his party backs the bill, though the Centre’s decision to introduce it at the fag end of its term raises doubts.
“This bill proves that caste-based and economic exploitations are different and not linked,” Telangana Rashtra Samithi member Jithender Reddy said. However, he lamented that the Centre is opposed to the Telangana government’s move to provide reservations for economically backward Muslims.
Biju Janata Dal legislator Bhartruhari Mehtab, Communist Party of India (Marxist) MP Jitendra Choudhury and Nationalist Congress Party legislator Supriya Sule also questioned the hurry in introducing the bill.
Union minister Ram Vilas Paswan claimed that “the country is more important than caste”. “People who were opposing reservation are now part of this 10% reservation,” he said. “So now they will not oppose reservations.” Paswan claimed that it is possible that people who were rich during British colonial rule are now poor.
The minister also reminded the House that the Centre had brought in an amendment to the Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes Act after a Supreme Court verdict that public servants cannot be arrested immediately after a complaint is filed against them under the Act.