A Constitution amendment bill providing for quota for SCs and STs in government job promotions was today passed by Rajya Sabha with an overwhelming vote of 206 in the 245-member House.
10 votes were polled against the proposed legislation, which was strongly opposed by UPA ally Samajwadi Party but pushed by another supporter BSP creating a difficult situation for the government.
Those who voted against the contentious Constitution (117th Amendment) Bill, 2012, were nine members of Samajwadi Party and an independent Md Adeeb.
Being a Constitution amendment bill, there was a requirement of the two-third majority, which was easily surpassed as 206 voted in favour in the House, where 216 members were present.
All four members of Shiv Sena, which was also opposed to the Bill, were not present in the House.
The bill, which provides for reservation proportionate to population of SCs and STs, was approved by the Union Cabinet on September 5 against the backdrop of Supreme Court quashing such a decision of the Uttar Pradesh government earlier this year.
Replying to the two-day debate, Minister of State for Personnel V Narayanasamy said the bill seeks to correct the "inadequacy" in representation of SCs/STs in higher positions in government jobs.
To garner maximum support, government incorporated some crucial elements like 22 per cent cap on promotions for which consideration of Annual Confidential Report (ACR) will be crucial.
Reeling out figures, Narayanasamy pointed out that discrimination against the SCs/STs/OBCs continue and they are inadequately represented in the top bureaucracy.
He said quota in promotion existed since 1995 but the decision in Indira Sawhney case put spokes in it.
Arguing that all parties including Samajwadi Party are convinced about social justice, Narayanasamy asked the UPA ally as to why they are opposing reservation in promotion when they accept reservation at the entry level.
Noting that the Supreme Court has asked for quantifiable data on it, he said, "From our side we are convinced that they are backward per se. Government is committed to provide reservation in promotion. This is commitment of our government and the party. We are for SCs/STs and OBCs."
Leader of the Opposition Arun Jaitley sought an assurance from the government that the amendments will not affect people who have already been promoted since 1995 to which Narayanasamy said the government will write in this regard to state governments so that people who have been promoted are "not adversely affected".
The Bill provides for amendments to Article 16(4) of the Constitution that will allow states to reserve seats in promotion for SCs and STs without collecting data to show the backwardness of class and inadequacy of that class in public appointments.
Samajwadi Party, which is strongly opposed to a bill asked the government to rethink on it, warning that it can have very serious fall-out and may be challenged in court.
Contending that his party is not against quota, Ram Gopal Yadav (SP) said as far as reservation in jobs at the entry level is concerned, it is justifiable but after that people should be treated equally.
His party colleague Naresh Agrawal demanded that the Bill should be referred to Parliamentary Standing Committee to avoid a possible widespread uproar in the country.
Earlier, when the Bill was taken up for consideration last Thursday, high drama was witnessed in the House with SP members creating uproar forcing the Chair to ask two of them to leave.
Agrawal, whose party was a clear minority in opposing the Bill in the Upper House, requested members belonging to other parties to vote not on party lines, but as per inner voice.
Earlier, SP demanded proportionate reservation for Muslims through a Constitutional amendment.
Raising the issue during Zero Hour, Ram Gopal Yadav said the Rajinder Sachar Committee in its report pointed out that the condition of Muslims was worse than Dalits.
"When quota in promotion (for SC/ST) can be given by amending Constitution, then why Muslims should not be given reservation in proportion to their population through a Constitution Amendment Bill," Yadav asked.
The debate also saw demands for reservation of Dalit Muslims and Dalit Christians. Ali Anwar Ansari from JD-U while supporting bill said that change of religion does not change the social condition of people and urged parties supporting the bill to expand their heart and include Dalits from among Christians and Muslims as well.
"We are first Dalits, then we became Muslims or Christians," Ansari said. Supporting the demand, Sitaram Yechury (CPI-M) wanted to know whether Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims can be accommodated.
The CPI-M leader also asked the government to consider the creation of supernumerary post when the rules are drafted for the bill as there are already vacancies in government jobs so that others do not lose their promotion chances due.
BJP member Rama Jois had moved an amendment, which he withdrew later after an assurance by the government.
Shivanand Tiwari (JD-U) said that the data reeled out by the government also shows that the condition of OBCs is quite pathetic in government jobs and wanted to know whether it will launch any special drive to correct the anomaly. RJD also supported his contentions.
Prashnata Chatterjee wanted to know how long reservation will be confined to government sector and when will it be brought in private sector.
Supporting the bill, he said that when reservation is looked at it should be done from a "mother's heart and not from an eagle's eye" and that reservation is not giving favour but equality.
The issue triggered an uproar in the House in the morning with SP members rushing into the Well leading to its adjournment for 30 minutes during Question Hour.
After the bill was passed, BSP chief Mayawati walked up to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to say thanks. She was also seen in an animated chat with her party colleagues.