Wanted: a 73rd-Like Amendment to Constitution
India is included among developing nations. Of course, there are areas where we have achieved much better results than expectations but there are areas which, even after 68 years of Independence, remain neglected.
The 73rd constitutional amendment was undertaken in 1992 mainly as an addition to Article 243 of the Constitution of India. Its main objective was to provide a decentralised system of democracy to the grassroots level and let the autonomy be felt at the lowest level in order for it to handle and manage its own affairs, which are local in nature. It would inculcate the feeling of association and also serve as training ground for these local institutions to handle the more complicated issues at a higher level later.
Though the provision for Panchayati Raj was already there in the form of Article 40 and 243 of the Indian Constitution, realising its unresponsiveness, the amendment was brought in. An important aspect of this amendment was reservation of seats for SCs, STs because it was realised that without reservation autonomy might be enjoyed by only a few and it would be restricted in the hands of very few people, leaving others marginalised. In this regard section D of Article 243 reads as:
1. Seats shall be reserved for-
(a) the Schedule Castes; and
(b) the Schedule Tribes,
in every Panchayat and the number of seats reserved shall bear, as nearly as may be, the same proportion to the total number of seats to be filled by direct election in that Panchayat area or the Schedule Tribes in that Panchayat area bears to the total population of that area and such seats may be allotted by rotation to different constituencies in a Panchayat.
2. Not less than one- third of the total number of seats reserved under clause (1) shall be reserved for women belonging to the Scheduled Castes or, as the case may be, the Scheduled Tribes.
3. Not less than one-third (including the number of seats reserved for women belonging to the Schedule Castes and Scheduled Tribes) of the total numbers of seats to be filled by direct election in every Panchayat shall be reserved for women and such seats may be allotted by rotation to different constituencies in a Panchayat.
4. The offices of the Chairpersons in the Panchayats at the village or any other level shall be reserved for Scheduled Castes, the Scheduled tribes and women in such manner as the legislature of the State may, by law, provide:
5. Provided that the number of offices of Chairpersons reserved for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in the Panchayats at each level in any State shall bear, as nearly as may be, the same proportion to the total number of such offices in the Panchayats at each level as the population of the Scheduled Castes in the State or of the Scheduled Tribes in the State bears to the total population of the State, provided further that not less than one-third of the total number of offices of Chairperson’s position in the Panchayats at each level shall be reserved for women. Provided also that the number of offices reserved under this clause shall be allotted by rotation to different Panchayats at each level.
In this amendment, neither the membership nor for the office of the chairperson, reservation was provided for Muslims in general and Muslim women in particular. Even Dalit Muslims were debarred. Though Muslims were also socio-economically weak, rather, in various parts of the country their condition was worse than that of the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and many other minorities and their women were the worst victims. But reservation was provided proportionally to those who constitute 16.2% of the total population and to those who constitute 8.2% of the population, leaving behind those who constitute 13.5% of the population.
Ironically, those who constitute India’s 13.5 % population were kept aside from reservation and were ignored. Dalit Muslims are debarred from the benefits of reservation in every field, be it social, economic or political. According to a report, 80% of them are converted from Hindu Dalits, but as Muslims they are excluded. From the Independence they are facing the same treatment. They were not included in the 1950 ordinance. Though the mistake was noticed in 1956 and amendment was made to the 1950 ordinance for Article 341. This time Dalit Sikhs were included as a result of intervention. Yet Dalit Muslims were not considered.
Then another amendment was made in 1990 which included Neo-Buddhists. Dalit Muslims were still kept out. A recommendation was made on 31st December 2000 by Bihar government to Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, Government of India, to include Dalit Muslims in Article 341.
Raghuvansh Prasad, then MP, introduced a private Third Constitution Scheduled Caste Order Amendment Bill 2000 on 17th May 2000 to include 26 Muslim castes in Schedule Castes President’s Order. Parliamentary debate took place on 18th December, 2003 to include Dalit Muslims and Dalit Christians. But the benefits of reservation are still a distant dream, be they Muslim women or Dalit Muslims or Muslims as a whole. The government has not taken any decision on this matter.
India’s Muslim population is next to Indonesia’s, and higher than any other Muslim country’s. Neglecting this huge population means the country’s incomplete progress, and including them in the mainstream through political inclusion means giving momentum to the process.
Though no one is against reservation given to either SCs and STs or others. Muslims are not a religious minority only. Socio-economic indicators also acknowledge their poor condition. Their literacy level is low. Their work participation, employment and health status are also low. They are unable to fully reap the benefits of development programmes, not even the benefits of OBC reservations which are mostly flowing towards the other OBCs.
A report indicated1 that in 90 districts with about 25% Muslim population the benefits of Multi Sectoral Developmental Programmes (MSDP) have reached only 30% of Muslim population in those areas. Not only this, infrastructure projects in many Muslim-concentrated states (UP and Bihar) have been diverted to non-Muslim minority areas. Since Muslims are out of banking system, many non-Muslim minorities, whose socio-economic status is comparable to upper class Hindus have benefitted. The Reserve Bank of India’s efforts to extend banking facility to Muslims is a failure. Budget outlay is much more for SCs and STs as compared to minorities, which are 19% of the total population of which 73% is Muslim.
Share in total fund allocation in 2010-11, for minorities was 5.33% whereas 7.19% for SCs and 14.13% for STs was allocated2. Even that money was not spent properly. During 11th plan (2007-12) the state governments did not utilise even half of that. Twelve states, which include higher concentration of Muslims, such as UP, Bihar, Maharashtra, and Assam, utilised less than 50% of the funds. Some states utilised only 20% of the total amount.
Sachar Committee had accepted that in many areas many indicators showed their condition was worse than that of SCs and STs. Was it not sufficient proof to give them special benefits and include them in reservation policy. No matter the Constitution is silent on reservation on religion basis but,
- Is it not open for socio-economically weak people ?
- Are Muslims not a weaker section of the society?
- Is the truth not accepted by the high level committee appointed by the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh?
- Does Article 46 of the Indian Constitution not say, “The State shall promote with special care the educational and economic interests of the weaker sections of the people, and, in particular, of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes, and shall protect them from social injustice and all forms of exploitation”?
In the article the word “weaker section” itself signifies the weak only, and not their religion or some other distinction.
Then, why were Muslims always kept away from the benefits of reservation?
The Constitution in 1982 specified 15% and 7.5% of vacancies in public sector and government-aided educational institutions for SCs, STs. As per the Delimitation of Parliamentary and Assembly Constituencies Order 2008, 84 seats (18.42%) are reserved for SC/Dalits and 47 (8.66%) for ST are provided in Lok Sabha3. And now there is almost a continuous increase of seats for them as a result of delimitation of constituencies combined with reservation benefits- as evident from the following table.
Table 1: Showing Seat Distribution in Lok Sabha
Yr. of Election Seat reserved for SCs Seat reserved for STs Total Seats
|Yr. of Election
||Seat reserved for SCs
||Seat reserved for STs
Courtesy:Electoral Statistics by Election Commission of India on http://eci.nic.in/eci_main1/current/Electoral%20Statisitics%20Pocket%20Book%202014.pdf
If Muslims were also included in reservation and given the chance in decision-making and policy-formulation process perhaps their concern would have been taken care of in a much better way, and through schemes and policies their social and economic issues would have been handled better. For that, right after the Sachar report presentation another 73rd-like Constitutional Amendment was needed to be made immediately, through which they could get the chance to be included. Their participation at the lower level politics would have empowered them significantly.
Uplift programmes are considered women-oriented while defence and technologies are more characteristic of men. Thus women can also perform in a much better and desired manner and more such developmental programmes in areas of education of children, better and more hospitals, provision of drinking water, social justice, construction of roads and other developmental work could have been carried out.
Conclusion: Human Development Report 2011 speaks volumes in this regard. In 2007-8, 23.7% of Muslims in urban areas and 13.3% in rural areas were poor compared to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes and other religious groups. Also, the rate of decline of poverty was very slow in case of Muslims. From 1993-4 to 2007-8 urban poverty declined only by 1.7 points in Muslims whereas for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes urban poverty declined by 28.2 points and 19.5 points respectively. In case of literacy, from 1999-2000 to 2007-08 literacy rate in urban Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribe increased by 8.7 points and 8 points respectively. But amongst the urban Muslims the increase is only 5.3 points.4 In health, too, their picture is not very bright. Decrease in mortality rate under 5 (between 1998-99 and 2005-6) for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes was 31.2 points and 30.9 points respectively and for Muslims it was 12.7 points only.
When the then Prime Minister appointed a high-level committee to ascertain the condition of Muslims, there were expectations that something would be done for them seriously. But not only affirmative action is a far off dream, even the recommendations of the report are yet to be noticed, especially the second and fifth recommendations, which read as:
“Mechanisms to ensure equity and equality of opportunity to bring about inclusion should be such that diversity is achieved and at the same time the perception of discrimination is eliminated”; and “While implementation of the programs and better participation of the community in the development process would gradually eliminate the perception of discrimination, there is a need to strengthen the legal provisions to eliminate such cases”.
This makes a fit case to be considered for reservation immediately. No matter the Constitution of India is silent on the reservation on religion basis but also it does not permit the state to discriminate on ground of race, religion, caste, sex and place of birth to take affirmative action.
Article 15 (1)5 reads as “The State shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them” and Cl(2) reads as “Nothing in this Article, or in clause (2) of Article 29 shall prevent the State from making any special provision for the advancement of any socially and educationally backward classes of citizens or for the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes.” 6
Also Article 16(1)7 reads as “there shall be equality of opportunity for all citizens in matters relating to employment or appointment to any office under the State”. Similarly Cl(2) of the same Article reads as “no citizen shall, on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, descent, place of birth, residence or any of them, be ineligible for, or discriminated against in respect of, any employment or office under the State”. And if the socio-economic indicators pointed out their condition is not any better than SCs/STs in many aspects and the committee has accepted that truth then what stops the State from giving them the reservation.
Based on the data they make the qualified case to be considered for urgent reservation. And surely amendments like in the 73rd are the urgent necessity of the day. Because from the outset, the Constituent Assembly laid out it objectives, for the Constitution, included guarantees of equality, basic freedom of expression, as well as adequate safeguard for minorities, backward and tribal areas and depressed and other backward classes. Their deprivation or underrepresentation in Indian politics even at the grassroots level is pretty pervasive. And if the minorities are debarred, especially the one which constitutes more than 13% of the population, the fruits of development will not reach them.
- Social Development Report 2012: Muslims at the Margins
- Times of India, Sep.16, 2013.
- Human Development Report 2011.
- Constitution of India
- Added by the Constitution (First Amendment) Act, 1951, s. 2.