The New National Commission for Backward Classes – Will it be Effective?

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The National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC), a statutory authority established in 1993 was given limited powers such as recommending to the government the inclusion or exclusion of a community in the central list of OBCs.

Therefore the government had passed the 102nd constitution amendment act, 2018 to provide constitutional status to the National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC) and empower it to hear complaints as well as protect the interests of socially and educationally backward classes.

However, there is also a question arises whether merely passing multiple acts and giving constitutional status is enough? considering the situation where several states have not yet implemented 27% reservation for OBCs and the skewed representation of backward sections in various levels of the government.

What is the Background?

  • Article 340 of the constitution talks about the need to identify socially and educationally backward classes and understand the conditions of their backwardness and make recommendations to remove the difficulties they face.
  • In the above context, two Backward Class Commissions were appointed in the 1950s and 1970s under Kaka Kalelkar and B.P.Mandal respectively.
  • In Indra Sawhney Case of 1992, the Supreme Court ordered the government to set up a permanent body to examine and recommend the inclusion and exclusion of different backward classes for the purpose of benefits and protection.
  • In compliance with the SC order, Parliament enacted the National Commission for Backward Classes Act in 1993 and created NCBC under Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment.
  • However, the power to hear complaints of the OBCs and protect their interests remained with the National Commission for Scheduled Castes.
  • 123rd constitution amendment bill of 2017 was introduced in Parliament to empower NCBC and safeguard the interests of backward sections more effectively.
  • Parliament has also passed a separate bill to repeal the National Commission for Backward Classes Act, 1993 thus making the latter act irrelevant.
  • 123rd amendment bill of 2017 got presidential assent in August 2018 and provided constitutional status to NCBC.

What is the composition of NCBC?

  • NCBC is composed of 1 chairperson and 5 members with the term of 3 years.
  • Members are appointed and removed by President.
  • President also determines their conditions of service and office tenure.
  • Chairperson eligibility – judge of SC/HC
  • Among the members, there should be:
    • at least 2 persons who have special knowledge in matters of backward classes,
    • at least 1 woman,
    • a social scientist,
    • a member secretary (rank of secretary to Government of India).

What are the salient features of the 102nd Constitutional Amendment Act?

  • It inserted two new articles – Article 338 B and 342 A. It also made certain changes in Article 366.
  • Article 338 B – empowers NCBC to examine complaints and welfare measures regarding socially and educationally backward classes.
  • Article 342 A – empowers President to specify/assign socially and educationally backward classes in different states and union territories. He can do this with the advice of Governor of the respective state. But a parliamentary law is required for amending (inclusion/removal) the list of backward classes.

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What are the powers and functions of new NCBC?

  • Safeguards: NCBC has the power to investigate, monitor and evaluate the working of safeguards provided under the constitution for the socially and educationally backward classes (SEdBCs).
  • Development: It participates and advises on the socio-economic development of the SEdBCs and also evaluates the progress of their development.
  • Reports: It submits reports upon the working of safeguards for SEdBCs to the President. President lay those reports before the Parliament. If such reports are related to the state, then a copy of the report shall be forwarded to the concerned state government.
  • Other functions: It has to perform such other functions (related to protection, welfare and development and advancement of SEdBCs) as the President may by rule specify which is subject to the provision of any parliamentary law.
  • NCBC has the powers of a civil court.

How is the new NCBC different from the earlier one? / Pros

  • Development: The 102nd amendment act has recognized that backward classes need holistic development and equality in all parameters in addition to reservations. Therefore it has provisions for the development of SedBCs and the new NCBC’s role in their development process.
  • Grievance redressal: The New NCBC can effectively redress the grievances of backward classes with the power of the civil court. The Act brings NCBC on par with the National Commission for SCs and National Commission for STs.
  • Transparency: Article 342(A) introduces greater transparency since it is mandatory to take concurrence with Parliament for adding or deleting any community in the backward classes list.
  • Representation: of at least 2 persons who have special knowledge related to backward classes and 1 woman in NCBC is a welcome move which makes the commission more democratic and effective in promoting interests of SEdBCs.

What are the concerns? / Cons

  • There is a concern that the new NCBC is unlikely to provide credible and effective social justice architecture due to the following reasons:
  • The advice of NCBC is not binding on the government.
  • It cannot define backwardness or include/delete classes in BC list = cannot resolve the growing challenge of demands of different castes to be included in BC list.
  • There is no expert body provided under the NCBC as recommended by the Supreme Court.
  • The Act does not talk about the periodic revision of the backward class list in consultation with the NCBC as recommended by the Supreme Court.
  • The grass root level issue cannot be solved with mere constitutional status and more acts. Because recent data revealed the poor representation of SC/ST and OBC categories.
    • Many states have not yet implemented the 27% reservation to OBCs.
    • Only 7 out of 100 teachers in the Central Universities belonged to SC/ST and OBC categories.
    • OBCs have a negligible presence in the Supreme Court and High Courts.
    • Poor representation of OBCs in various committees, commissions, boards and other different fora of government.

What needs to be done?

  • The expert body should be constituted under the NCBC as mandated by the Supreme Court.
  • The findings of the caste census and the NCBC’s recommendations should be published in a public domain by the government and implement reservation accordingly.
  • Effective implementation of reservation for Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) among OBCs is the need of the hour.
  • Finally and more importantly, the politicians should rise above Vote-bank politics and adopt value-based politics and work towards social justice.

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