Towards a fighting chance for women in politics: govt introduces women's reservation bill

This bill will provide 33% reservation to women in Lok Sabha and state assemblies, with quota for SC/STs within the reserved seats for women. The bill, which requires amendment to the Constitution, is named Narishakti Vandan Adhiniyam.
Towards a fighting chance for women in politics: govt introduces women's reservation bill

New Delhi | The government on Tuesday introduced a constitutional amendment bill reserving 33 per cent seats for women in the Lok Sabha and state assemblies, reviving a bill pending for 27 years and blending history, politics and societal imperatives on the first day in the new Parliament building.

The women's reservation bill, named Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam and introduced in the Lower House by Law Minister Arjun Ram Meghwal, will come into effect only after a delimitation exercise is completed and is therefore unlikely to be in force during the next Lok Sabha elections in 2024. It was the first bill to be introduced in the new Parliament building.

September 19, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, is a date that will be etched in history and god has chosen him for the noble work.

"The Narishakti Vandan Adhiniyam will further strengthen our democracy I assure all mothers, sisters and daughters of the nation that we are committed to making this bill into a law," the prime minister said in the first speech in the first session in the new premises amid thumping of desks by members of both treasury and opposition benches.

The government, Modi stressed, wants more and more women to join the development process of the country.

For many years, there have been several debates and controversies around women's reservation. On women's reservation, there have been many efforts earlier also in Parliament. In 1996, the first bill related to this was introduced. During Atal Bihari Vajpayee's tenure, many times the women's reservation bill was brought but numbers could not be mustered for it and the dream was left unfulfilled," he said.

"For that work of ensuring rights of women and putting their power to use and for many such noble works, god has chosen me. Once again, our

government has taken a step in this direction. In the cabinet yesterday, the women's reservation bill was given approval, he added.

Modi also urged opposition members of both Houses to pass the bill unanimously.

Pending since 1996 when the first bill on the matter was introduced but could not be passed due to lack of political consensus -- several regional parties demanded quota within quota' -- it is likely to see smooth passage this time with most parties pushing for guaranteeing women one-third representation in the Lok Sabha and state assemblies.

However, provisions in the Constitution (128th Amendment) Bill make it clear the reservation will come into effect only after the delimitation exercise, or the redrawing of constituencies, taking into account data of the census conducted after the bill becomes a law.

The issue was taken up strongly by opposition parties, particularly the Congress that claimed credit for the idea of the proposed law and termed the present bill an election jumla.

Congress general secretary Jairam Ramesh also described the bill as a huge betrayal of the hopes of crores of Indian women and girls".

"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 When will this Census take place?" Ramesh said.

The bill also says the reservation comes into effect only after the publication of the next Census and the subsequent delimitation exercise thereafter, he pointed out.

"Basically the Bill gets the headlines today with a very vague promise of its implementation date. This is nothing but EVM - Event Management," he said.

Earlier in the morning, Congress' parliamentary party chief Sonia Gandhi told reporters, "It is ours, apna hai."

Women Congress supporters were also seen celebrating the bill at the AICC headquarters in Delhi.

Data shows that women MPs account for about 15 per cent of Lok Sabha strength and the representation of women is under 10 per cent in many state assemblies, including Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Assam, and Gujarat.

Meghwal said the number of women members in the Lok Sabha will rise to 181 from 82 currently after the bill comes into force.

The bill proposes that the reservation will continue for 15 years and there will be quota for SC/STs within the reserved seats for women. Seats reserved for women will be rotated after each delimitation exercise.

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.

There have been several efforts to introduce the women's reservation bill in the Lok Sabha and state assemblies since 1996. The last such attempt was made in 2010 when the Rajya Sabha passed the bill but it could not be passed in the Lok Sabha.

As the day progressed, many parties from across the country spoke up.

Addressing a press conference in the national capital, AAP leader Atishi said it was a Mahila Bewakoof Banao bill.

"We demand that the provisions of delimitation and census be done way with and the women's reservation be implemented for the 2024 Lok Sabha polls," she said.

According to Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav, reservation for women should be a balance of gender justice and social justice and demanded clarity on share of backward, Dalit, minority, and tribals in the seats set aside.

BSP supremo Mayawati said her party will support any bill that allows reservation for women in Parliament and other legislatures, even if the party's demand for a quota for the SC, ST and OBC within that quota is not met.

"We believe that after discussion the women reservation bill will be passed this time which had been pending since long," Mayawati said.

Senior RJD leader Rabri Devi said in a statement that "quota within quotas" was essential for weaker sections of society "since it is only their first generation of women which is becoming educated and aware".

Meghalaya's lone woman minister Ampareen Lyngdoh, from the Meghalaya Democratic Alliance, termed it a historic decision that would herald change in the otherwise male-dominated politics of the country.

Many women's groups and other experts welcomed the move towards guaranteeing women reservation but also pointed to the challenges that lay ahead.

The purpose of the legislation to uplift women would be defeated if the elected representatives under the quota were from the same families where male members are in politics, said Shilpi Jain, a prominent lawyer.

"There could be a provision to encourage women who are not from political backgrounds to contest, otherwise the purpose would be defeated by reservation," she said.

Shabnam Hashmi, from the Left-leaning NGO Anhad, said, "At the MLA and MP levels, there would be a difference. She would need to establish herself at the constituency level, she will need to be more assertive and more dependent on herself rather than the family," she said.

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