New Delhi- Meeting a long-pending demand, the government on Tuesday introduced a bill to provide 33 per cent reservation to women in Lok Sabha and state assemblies.
However, its implementation may still take some time and is unlikely to be in force for the next Lok Sabha elections in 2024 as the reservation will come into effect only after a delimitation exercise is completed.
The bill has proposed that the reservation will continue for a period of 15 years and there will be quota for SC/STs within the reserved seats for women.
Speaking in Lok Sabha ahead of its introduction, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the government wants more and more women to join the development process of the country.
“For that work of giving power to women and for many such nobel works, God has chosen me. Once again our government has taken a step in this direction,” he asserted.
The Constitution (One Hundred and Twenty Eighth Amendment) Bill, 2023, was listed for introduction in the Lower House through a supplementary list of business.
The reservation of “as nearly as may be, one-third of the total number of seats to be filled by direct election” will come into effect after a delimitation exercise is undertaken and will continue for 15 years. Seats reserved for women will be rotated after each subsequent delimitation exercise, according to the bill.
Officials said according to provisions of Article 368, the Constitution amendment bill will require ratification by at least 50 per cent of the states. Their consent is needed as it affects their rights.
The then finance minister Pranab Mukherjee had said in Lok Sabha in March 2010 that such bills will have to be ratified by half of the states. By bringing the bill, which requires amendment to the Constitution, the Modi government has revived the concept of women reservation in Lok Sabha and state assemblies pending for 27 years for want of consensus among parties.
Making it the first bill to be introduced in the new Parliament building, the draft law will be named “Narishakti Vandan Adhiniyam”.
The government said it will enable greater participation of women in policy-making at the state and national levels and help achieve the goal of making India a developed country by 2047.
While several parties had supported the concept, the debate in Parliament may see opposition questioning the pre-requisite of holding census and delimitation before the proposed law comes into force.
Before the bill was listed for introduction, Congress’ parliamentary party chief Sonia Gandhi said this morning that the women’s reservation bill “is ours”.
Speaking in Rajya Sabha, Modi urged members to support the bill unanimously when it comes to the upper house.
While the BJP described the bill as historic and a result of the visionary leadership of Modi, parties including the Congress dubbed it as an election “jumla”.
As we had pointed out earlier, Modi government has not yet conducted the 2021 Decadal Census making India the only country in G20 that has failed to carry out the Census,” Congress general secretary in charge communication Jairam Ramesh said.
He said according to the bill, the reservation will come into effect only after the publication of the next census and the subsequent delimitation exercise. “Will the census and delimitation be done before the 2024 elections,” he asked.
Former law minister and Congress leader M Veerappa Moily said by bringing the bill “at the last minute”, the government thinks it can get some political advantage.
“It has a social aspect, social justice to be given to 50 per cent of the population of the country, that kind of commitment is not demonstrated by the NDA and the BJP government,” he said.
BSP supremo Mayawati said her party will support any bill that allows reservation for women in Parliament and other legislatures, even if its demand for a quota for the SC, ST and OBC within that quota is not met.
She said her party wanted women from the Scheduled Caste, Scheduled Tribe and Other Backward Classes to get a separate quota in the bill.
AIMIM leader Asaduddin Owaisi said the government should have also provided for reservation of Muslim and OBC.
AAP leader and Delhi minister Atishi questioned the provision of delimitation and census. “This means that women reservation won’t be implemented ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha polls,” she said.
In Lok Sabha, Home Minister Amit Shah rejected claim of Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury that the 2008 brought by the Manmohan Singh government was still live after being passed by Rajya Sabha in 2010.
Later, Law Minister Arjun Ram Meghwal said the bill had lapsed after the dissolution of the 15 Lok Sabha as after being passed by Rajya Sabha it had become the property of the lower house.
The government said women participate substantively in panchayats and at municipal bodies, but their representation in state assemblies, Parliament is still limited.
Women bring different perspectives and enrich quality of legislative debates and decision-making, it added.
Rights activists cautioned against any quota for women in Parliament and assemblies becoming a token exercise. They said there should be provisions to encourage those from non-political background contest polls rather than those picked by male members of politically affluent families.
In certain instances in panchayat elections where there exists a 33 per cent reservation for women, women’s reserved seats are filled by the female family members of politically affluent sections of the community and largely play figurehead roles. This makes a quota for women in electoral bodies effectively moot, they felt.
The then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi first introduced Constitution Amendment Bills for one-third reservation in panchayats and nagarpalikas in May 1989. It was passed by Lok Sabha but failed in Rajya Sabha in September 1989.
Later, Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao reintroduced Constitution Amendment Bills for one-third reservation for women in panchayats and nagarpalikas in April 1993. Both bills became law. There have been several efforts to introduce women’s reservation bill in Lok Sabha and state legislative assemblies since 1996. The last such attempt was made in 2010, when Rajya Sabha had passed a bill for women’s reservation, but the same could not be passed in Lok Sabha.
Data shows that women MPs account for nearly 15 per cent of Lok Sabha strength while their representation is below 10 per cent in many state assemblies.
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