Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar on Tuesday agreed to convene an all-party meeting to try and arrive at a consensus on the Women’s Reservation Bill to pave the way for its smooth passage in the Lok Sabha. The Bill has already been passed in the Rajya Sabha.

The announcement came after the Leader of the Opposition and leaders of several political parties suggested that she take the initiative for arriving at a consensus over the issue by calling a meeting after the April-May Assembly elections in five States.

Leader of the House Pranab Mukherjee while expressing the government's commitment to pass the Bill in the Lok Sabha sought the Opposition's cooperation in this endeavour. The Speaker's response came during the Zero Hour after the members had spoken on the issue in the context of the International Women's Day being celebrated on Tuesday. However, as expected there were sharp differences over the quota.

It was the Leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj, who took the lead when she made a forceful plea for extending 33 per cent reservation to women in Parliament, saying it would go a long way in their empowerment in the same way as the 74th Constitution Amendment Bill providing for reservation in panchayats and local bodies had done.

Responding to the members' views, Leader of the House Pranab Mukherjee said, "I entirely agree with the Leader of Opposition. It will be highly appreciative if some initiative is taken by you to try to find a solution, if possible through reconciliation."

"We will be able to demonstrate that we can find ways to resolve the irreconcilable differences. Let us commit ourselves on this day to find a way out. This way only, we can fulfil our long-standing commitment," he said.

Earlier raising the issue, Ms. Swaraj said there was need for a consensus over the Bill, pending for last 16 years, at a time when the top four posts of President, Speaker, Leader of Opposition and UPA Chairperson were being held by women.

She wanted Ms. Kumar to convene a meeting of all political parties after the Assembly elections in five States with the resolve to find a way out so as to make the passage of the Bill. Observing that several meetings have been held without any decision in the matter, she said "hold the meeting for two, three or four days. Don't call it off before a solution is hammered out."

Supporting reservation for women in Parliament and State Assemblies, the Speaker said that after the Assembly polls, a meeting of parties should be called to evolve a consensus. “I feel reservation is important. I am fully hopeful that some solution will emerge’’, she said.

Mulayam Singh Yadav (SP), Sharad Yadav (JD-S) and Raghuvansh Prasad Singh (RJD) warned of dire consequences if quota within quota was not provided for women from backward classes, minorities and SCs and STs.

"The Bill was passed by force. If the same is attempted here (in Lok Sabha), there will be war", Mr. Raghuvansh Prasad said. Maintaining that he was not opposed to reservation for women, Mr. Mulayam Singh Yadav said political parties should give 20 per cent of their tickets to women candidates. Opposing the Bill in its present form, he said, "If it is passed like this, there will not be a single male member in this House. We will be asked to leave and make room for women."

Emphasising that 20 per cent quota was the best way to ensure reservation, Mr. Mulayam Singh Yadav said he had floated this proposal when Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the Prime Minister and the latter had agreed.

To make a point, he said women like President Pratibha Patil and the Speaker had reached top positions without any reservation. Mr. Sharad Yadav said a "major struggle" would be launched if only the creamy layer of women were benefited and 70-80 per cent of women, who were part of the neglected sections, were left out.

Basudeb Acharia (CPI-M) wanted to know why there was delay in bringing the Bill to Lok Sabha and demanded that the measure be brought to the House and passed immediately.

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