New Delhi: Disfavouring inclusion of certain castes under the SC category, government was on Friday on the verge of facing an embarrassing situation in Rajya Sabha when a private member bill on it was about to be put to vote but it was averted as the ruling side cited lack of quorum.
The situation almost reached the embarrassing point for the government as Vishambhar Prasad Nishad of Samajwadi Party, who had moved the bill, insisted on putting it to vote, rejecting pleas for withdrawing it.
As Nishad remained adamant on voting, Deputy Chairman P J Kurien started the process of voting on the bill.
Normally, private member bills, except in a rare few cases, are withdrawn by those moving them after a reply from the government.
"If he is not withdrawing, I will have to put it to vote," Kurien said.
Sensing an unpleasant situation, some members of BJP, including a minister, went out of the House which was left with 21 members altogether.
Doing a quick thinking, Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi pointed to the Chair that the House does not have quorum for voting.
As per the rules, the House should have at least 10 per cent of members of the total strength present for quorum. In the case of Rajya Sabha, presence of at least 25 members is required for quorum.
Since the House did not have as many members, it was adourned for the day.
Earlier, replying to the bill, Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment Thaawar Chand Gehlot urged the member to withdraw the bill saying that the Centre cannot include castes like Mallah, Goriya and Kashyap under SC as the Registrar General (RGI) has rejected the UP government's proposal twice.
"Recommendation of RGI is binding for us. RGI has rejected the UP government's proposal twice, the government of India cannot include these castes mentioned by the member under SC," he said.
The minister said the UP government has been informed about the Centre's stand on the issue.
"I regret, since there is no legal provision, these castes cannot be included under SC. ...I agree with your views but I cannot include these castes overlooking recommendations of RGI. We can consider it in future if there are any change in rules," Gehlot said.
Not satisfied with the minister's reply, the SP member insisted on voting on the bill, saying the previous UPA government too had given similar assurance and did nothing.
"Last time, same assurance was given. I do not have hope this government will do. I will not withdraw," he said.
The Minister again tried to persuade the member: "The Scheduled Castes Order was first issued in 1950, which was amended from time to time based on the recommendation of RGI. I am bound by the Constitutional scheme of things. If there is possibility in future, we will definetly consider."
On SC/ST benefits to those converted to other religion, the minister said the benefits will be given only to those who have converted to Buddhism and Sikh.
The government has also filed an affidavit before Supreme Court stating those converted to Muslim and Christianity will not be entitled for SC/ST benefits, he added.
Naqvi also pursuaded the member to withdraw the bill.
The bill had been earlier moved in April 2014 during the UPA rule and was hanging since then. The House took up the resumed discussion on it today.
Moving the bill for consideration and passage, Nishad said amendments are necessary to remove certain anomalies as some castes like 'Mallah' fall under SC in Delhi and West Bengal and not in Uttar Pradesh.
In some states, some castes are under SC in some districts, while in other districts they in other backward castes (OBC) category, he said, adding that there is a need to remove such disparity not only in UP but across the country.
Speaking on the bill, Javed Ali Khan (SP) said, "I don't think the RGI is powerful and can override Parliament. The issue should be decided based on the political will."
Anand Bhaskar Rapolu (Cong) also pointed out serious anomalies related to SC and ST castes across the country. He urged the government to make scientic enumeration of castes.
Husain Dalwai (Cong) suggested the government to set up a separate commision to include those castes that are in need of reservation benefits of SC/ST. Tiruchi Siva (DMK) also spoke on the issue.