It was a day of embarrassment for the Narendra Modi-led BJP government in Rajya Sabha on Monday, when it could not ensure passage of a bill to confer constitutional status on the Backward Classes Commission with the opposition succeeding in amending an important provision.
A Constitution amendment bill on backward classes was changed after some amendments moved by the Opposition were passed by the House. Several BJP legislators were missing from the House, making it easier for the Opposition to pass the amendments. Up to 30 MPs were absent.
The Constitution (123rd Amendment) Bill, 2017, providing for setting up of a National Commission for Backward Classes, was passed after dropping Clause 3, to which four amendments was approved by the House earlier. The dropped clause pertains to the insertion of a new article 338B about the constitution and powers of the National Commission for Backward Classes.
The amended bill will now have to be returned to the Lok Sabha for its fresh approval. The Lower House had already passed the bill but in the Upper House it had been referred to a Select Committee as the Opposition had wanted more scrutiny.
Days after the Select Committee submitted its report, the Rajya Sabha today took up the Constituent amendment bill, whose passage requires two-third majority of those present and voting in the 245-member House.
Congress members Digvijaya Singh, B K Hariprasad and Hussain Dalwai moved an amendment to clause 3 of the bill seeking to provide for appointment of all the five members of the commission from the OBC community, including a woman and a person from the minority community.
This was objected to by the government's side. Leader of the House Arun Jaitley said that what the Congress members were seeking could be looked into at the time of framing of rules under the law.
He said inclusion of such a provision barring entry of other community members in the commission could make the law unconstitutional as it may not stand judicial scrutiny.
As Congress members, including Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad, P. Chidambaram and Kapil Sibal pressed for an immediate vote, Deputy Chairperson P J Kurien ordered a 10-minute suspension of proceedings for the two sides to sort out the matter.
CPI-M leader Sitaram Yechury suggested that in case the bill could not be passed in the original form, the government could rectify the defects in the Lok Sabha where the legislation has to go back because there has been no unanimity in the Rajya Sabha. The amended bill from the Lok Sabha can be adopted by the house later, he said.
Samajwadi Party leader Ram Gopal Yadav said non-passage of the bill will give a wrong message to the country and suggested that the government and the main opposition Congress should sort out the issue and get the bill passed.
At the insistence of Congress members, the chair put their amendement to vote in a division which was carried with 75 voting for and 54 against, reflecting the lack of numbers on the government side.
When the amended Clasue 3 of the bill was put to vote, the BJP members voted against it. The result of the division was 69 ayes and 50 noes. A Constitution amendment bill can be passed only with the majority of the house present and two-thirds of those present voting in its favour.
The bill without Clause 3 that seeks to insert Article 330 8B was passed. The bill has to go back to the Lok Sabha where the govenment can amend it and get it passed as it has a majority.
After the fiasco for the government, both the sides traded charges. Minister for Minority Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said the Congress will have to regret this “moment” against backward classes for centuries to come.
Azad accused the government of being insincere and failing to do its homework.
Earlier, the treasury benches and the opposition traded charges against each other, with the government accusing the opposition of not wanting to get the bill for backward classes passed while the opposition put the blame on the government for this lapse.