RS passes 123rd const. amendment bill sans clause III

Krishnanand Tripathi
Deputy Chairman P J Kurien addressing members in Rajya Sabha

Deputy Chairman P J Kurien addressing members in Rajya Sabha

Perhaps it’s for the first time that Rajya Sabha passed a constitutional amendment bill without an important clause (clause 03 of the 123rd constitutional amendment bill) due to serious disagreement over it even as the clause was approved by the required two third majority in the other house, including by the same parties that rejected it in the Rajya Sabha.

There was serious disagreement with regard to the clause 3 of the bill that seeks to insert article 338B in the constitution.

Three congress members in the Rajya Sabha – Digvijay Singh, BK Hariprasad and Husain Dalwai moved amendment number 27, 28 and 29 to change the composition of the proposed national commission for socially and educationally backward castes.

Sub clause 2 of the clause 3 of the 123rd constitutional amendment bill deals with the appointment of a Chairperson, Vice-Chairperson and three other members by the President and conditions of service and tenure.

However, this proved the point of contention between the treasury benches and principal opposition party Congress.

Congress member Digvijay Singh demanded the provision for appointment of five members in stead of three members and his amendment also sought one member from minority community and one woman member in the proposed panel. The amendment pressed by Digvijay Singh also sought that all the members should be members of other backward classes (OBC).

At this stage social justice and empowerment minister Thavar Chand Gehlot tried to assure the opposition that though this provision was not part of the constitutional amendment bill but the government would certainly consider this thing while making the rules.

However, his request was rejected by Congress member Digvijay Singh saying that the government was composed of people who believed in sloganeering (Jumla) based politics and he would not trust it.

A TV grab of the voting process in the Rajya Sabha.

A TV grab of the voting process in the Rajya Sabha.

In a serious setback to the government the amendment moved by Digvijay Singh was passed by a simple majority of 74 votes in its favour in comparison with 52 votes against it as was displayed in the telecast of the official proceedings which is a subject to corrections.

Opposition blamed treasury benches for absence of its members as several BJP members were not present in the house during the voting process.

Congress member P. Chidambaram said that the passage of a constitutional amendment bill was a serious business and in this case the government was not serious at all.

However, the amendments moved by Digvijay Singh with regard to the composition of the proposed national commission for socially and educationally backward classes could not get the support of two third members of the total members present and voting to make them a part of the constitutional amendment bill.

The approval of the amendment moved by Digvijay Singh by a simple majority upset the calculation of the treasury benches and ensuing arguments lead to the suspension of Rajya Sabha proceedings for nearly 05 minutes in the middle of the voting process to sort out the issue without adjourning the house.

However, when the house reconvened after five minutes, leader of the house Arun Jaitley explained to the members that even the 2004 constitutional amendment to create national commissions for scheduled castes and scheduled tribes the membership was confined only to the members of the same communities.

Jaitley said: “The constitution doesn’t provide for exclusion of any community and its legality may have been challenged.”

He said: “What was done subsequently and these were rules that were framed in 2004. A provision was made in the rules. For instances in case of SC, the rule specifically said that the chairperson shall be appointed from amongst eminent social, political workers belonging to schedule castes who aspire confidence among schedule castes and their personality, vice chairman and members, at least will from scheduled castes. So you did not exclude the others. Similarly, at least one will be a woman. This was incorporated in the rules.”

Addressing to the members Jaitley further explained: “Similarly if the constitutional amendment as was proposed originally is passed. The same pattern in article 338 and it’s identical in 338A. So you create a You create a bare structure of the commission and in the rules you provide and in both the rules you did not exclude anybody else. Because their may be members who are not scheduled castes but may espouse the cause of scheduled castes, this may help in social integration. So therefore this exclusion was not desired from 2004 to till today.”

Responding to Congress member Kapil Sibal’s argument for reserving the membership of the proposed commission only to the members of backward classes, Jaitley said that any commission that would have the powers of a civil court cannot exclude the members of other community and this provision could be legally challenged on this ground.

After some serious arguments between the treasury benches and opposition over how to sort out the issue it was decided that the voting process cannot be adjourned after it had started and neither the treasury bench nor the opposition parties had the support of the two third majority of the present and voting members hence the clause III should be dropped from the bill to complete the voting process.

It will enable the government to take back the amended 123rd constitutional amendment bill to the Lok Sabha and seek approval for a fresh bill.

The house then passed the remaining two clauses – number 04 and 05 with the required majority to complete the voting process.

Social Justice Minister Thavar Chand Gehlot requested the house to pass the amended bill without clause III and the house passed the amended bill, without the clause III, with 124 members voting in its favor and none against it.

The passage of a different constitutional amendment bill in the Rajya Sabha led the minister to withdraw the another bill – National Commission for Backward Classes (Repeal) Bill, 2017.