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Constitutional Status National Commission for Backward Classes: A critical analysis (Relevant for GS Prelims and GS Mains Paper II)

The new NCBC
Lok Sabha passed the 123rd amendment to the Constitution which will, when it becomes law, bring into being a ‘constitutional’ National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC). The current NCBC was created under an Act of Parliament in 1993. The new insertion into the Constitution (Article 338B) is identical to the Articles 338 and 338A that respectively created the national commission for SCs and another for STs.

What the 123rd amendment amounts to is that the Union government has in one stroke brought BCs in league with the SC/STs as victims of discrimination.

Criticism of proposal to make NCBC constitutional:
1. On the task of identifying backward classes, the new entity will not even be expected to do the job. Hereafter Parliament will determine who is a BC for the ‘Central’ List.

2. Since it has no responsibility to define backwardness, it cannot address the current challenge of well-off castes’ demands to be included as BCs.

3. Delinking Article 340 :The 123rd amendment delinks the whole folio of backward classes from Article 340 and brings it closer to provisions related to SC/STs.

What does Art 340 say?
(1) The President may by order appoint a Commission consisting of such persons as he thinks fit to investigate the conditions of socially and educationally backward classes.

(2) A Commission so appointed shall investigate the matters referred to them and present to the President a report setting out the facts as found by them and making such recommendations as they think proper

(3) The President shall cause a copy of the report so presented together with a memorandum explaining the action taken thereon to be laid before each House of Parliament.

The government initially proposed to set up the “National Commission for Socially and Educationally Backward Classes” which is —at least — closer to Article 340.

Once the 123rd amendment becomes law, Article 340 will be dead.

What was the need of Art 340?
The article reflects the Constituent Assembly’s understanding on the matter which is relevant even today: there are classes, not castes, which suffer from social and educational backwardness, and the state has the burden of allocating adequate funds to ameliorate their conditions.

Though Article 338B keeps the socially and educationally backward classes as its subject matter, in practice the proposed system will treat the developmental issues related to BCs on a par with caste discrimination and untouchability suffered by SCs and even by STs. The new NCBC will hear grievances, inquire into complaints, summon officials given its powers as a civil court, issue directions and have the right to be consulted by both Union and the States on policy matters related to BCs.

This illogic will sooner than later degenerate into perversion. Consider a possibility: in case of an atrocity against SCs, the National Commission for Scheduled Castes intervenes as a guardian of their rights. It is not rare that in most atrocities SCs are pitted against Shudras (be they upper or lower). It is irrelevant whether it is an atrocity or a group clash, once an incident flares up two ‘constitutional’ national commissions will clash, each defending its wards.

(Adapted from The Hindu)



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