The Constitution (One Hundred and Twenty-third Amendment) Bill,2017

Union Minister Thaawarchand Gehlot to move The Constitution (One Hundred and Twenty-third Amendment) Bill, 2017 for further amendment to be made in the Bill further to amend the Constitution of India, as passed by Lok Sabha and as returned by Rajya Sabha. This Bill was passed by Lok Sabha on the 10th April 2017 and transmitted to Rajya Sabha for their concurrence. Rajya Sabha passed the Bill with an amendment at its sitting held on the 31st July 2017 and returned it to Lok Sabha on 1st August 2017.

Highlights of the Bill:

The bill provides for the grant of constitutional status to the National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC) on par with the National Commission for Scheduled Castes and the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes.

It states that the President may specify the socially and educationally backward classes in the various states and union territories. He may do this in consultation with the Governor of the concerned state.

The duties of the NCBC include investigating and monitoring how safeguards provided to the backward classes under the Constitution and other laws are being implemented and probe specific complaints regarding violation of rights.

The NCBC will be required to present annual reports to the President on working of the safeguards for backward classes.  These reports will be tabled in Parliament, and in the state legislative assemblies of the concerned states.

Powers of a civil court: Under the Constitution Amendment Bill, the NCBC will have the powers of a civil court while investigating or inquiring into any complaints.  These powers include: (i) summoning people and examining them on oath, (ii) requiring the production of any document or public record, and (iii) receiving evidence.

The Supreme Court, in its final verdict in the Indira Sawhney (Mandal Commission) case, had directed the establishment of the NCBC as a statutory body. Based on this, a law was passed in 1993 to set up the commission. The NCBC has been examining cases for inclusion in the BC lists for the Central government since then.

A widely welcomed move to grant constitutional status to the National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC) has also brought with it a whiff of controversy over whether it amounts to encroaching on the domain of the States.

Several Opposition parties, which in general welcome the grant of constitutional status to the BC Commission, have said the Bill if enacted, would undermine federalism, as it amounts to usurping the power of State governments to prepare their own BC lists.

The Centre has sought to allay these fears, saying the powers of the States would remain unaffected. In any case, the list for every State will be prepared only in consultation with the State government.

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