Centre restoring states’ power to decide OBCs

New Delhi: In a major empowerment of the states, the Centre is bringing a constitutional amendment bill to restore the powers of the states to decide the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) for reservation in state government jobs and admissions in higher educational institutions.

It is to overcome the Supreme Court ruling on May 5 in the Maratha reservation case by a 5-judge Constitution Bench that only the President can declare any community as OBC and that too only on the recommendation of the National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC). The judgement was upheld early this month even on the review petition by the Centre.

The Bill is, however, still not in the list of 23 Bills lined up by the government for consideration in the upcoming monsoon session of Parliament from Monday. The parliamentary affairs ministry said the Bill awaits clearance by the Union Cabinet and that may happen as early as next week to table the Bill in Parliament, hoping its smooth passage since all parties are in favour of the empowerment of the state governments in this regard.

Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray had sought an amendment in Article 324A from the Prime Minister to restore the states' powers lost in the Supreme Court judgement.

The draft Bill readied by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment seeks to add a clarification clause in Article 342A that the state governments shall have the power to identify and include the OBCs or socially and educationally backward classes in their respective lists. The amendment has been vetted by the Law Ministry as in no conflict with the Apex Court's judgment.

Even while upholding the 102nd Constitution Amendment, enacted in 2018, in its May judgment, the Supreme Court had ruled that it withdraws authority to the state governments to declare the OBC category as it now vests in the President to decide which communities would be included not only in the national list but also in the state OBC lists, and that too only on the recommendations of the NCBC that was given the statutory powers through this amendment.

The 102nd Constitution Amendment adds two clauses in Article 342 as Article 324A on the President declaring any socially or educationally backward class, in consultation with the state governor.

The third clause to be inserted as Article 342A(3) specifically states that the power to notify the OBCs on the state list would vest in the state governments, removing the handicap they suffered from the Apex Court ruling debarring them from including any new OBC community for the purpose of the reservations.

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