New Delhi: A bill to accord constitutional status to the National Commission for Backward Classes was approved by the Lok Sabha even as the Opposition expressed apprehensions that it would impair the power of states.
The Constitution Amendment bill, which requires two-thirds majority for passage, was approved by the House with 360 members voting in favour and two against.
Terming it as "historic" bill, Social Justice and Empowerment Minister Thawar Chand Gehlot said it would promote the welfare of the OBCs.
The minister assured the House that the bill, which has similar provisions as in case of SC and ST commissions, will not curtail the powers of states in any way.
The Opposition, including the Congress, the Trinamool Congress and the BJD, sought an assurance from the minister that powers of the states would not be affected by the passage of the bill.
Responding to demands for including a woman in the five-member commission, the minister said he would incorporate this suggestion while framing the rules for operationalising the legislation.
As per the statement of objects and reasons of the bill, the Commission will hear the grievances of socially and educationally backward classes, a function which has been discharged so far by the National Commission for Scheduled Castes.
It also seeks to insert a new article 342A so as to provide that the President may, by public notification, specify the socially and educationally backward classes.
Trinamool member Kalyan Banerjee and BJD MP Bhartruhari Mahtab said this Constitution amendment bill would take away the powers of states to include or exclude a community under the OBC classes.
On this concern, Gehlot said: "we will not take way the powers and rights of states. I assure you that. The power of state commissions would continue. We do not want to weaken the states now or in future also".
He also said that the Centre would act on the recommendations of the Governor which will be submitted after consulting the respective state government.
"We are trying to strengthen the commission and not weaken that," he said.
The House also repealed the National Commission for Backward Classes Act 1993 as the Commission will now be part of the Constitution.
"We respect the rights of the states. We will not distract from the federal structure," he said.
After this law is enacted, Parliament will have powers to include or exclude any community from the list of OBCs so in that sense "we are weakening the centre", he said.
On the issue raised by Asaduddin Owaisi (AIMIM) about Muslims, the minister said that the government will not interfere in the list of the states where some Muslim communities are included in the list of OBCs. .