A day after her party abstained from voting on the women's reservation bill, Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee on Wednesday asked why one-third of the Rajya Sabha seats as well should not be set aside for women. The 108th Constitution Amendment Bill that was passed in the upper house on Tuesday provides for reservation for women in the Lok Sabha and State Assemblies only.
“Why is there no 33 per cent reservation for women in the Rajya Sabha?'' Ms. Banerjee asked. She claimed her party had raised the issue several times. Ms. Banerjee, who had approved the Bill in the Union Cabinet, said she supported the bill in principle, but would discuss the stand to be taken in the Lok Sabha when it comes up for voting.
Her question acquires significance in the context of the impression gaining ground that male politicians who are edged out of the race because of reservation in the Lok Sabha might crowd out women in the upper house. As it is, the representation of women in the current Rajya Sabha is barely nine per cent, lower than Lok Sabha. There are only 21 women in a House of 233 MPs. “Yes, there is that danger,” a woman Rajya Sabha MP said on condition of anonymity when asked whether the number of women in the upper house may fall even as their number rises in the lower house.
However, there is no constitutional provision for reservation of any kind in the council of states or the upper house, which has members elected by the State Assemblies as distinct from the directly elected Lok Sabha. The absence of reservation for SCs and STs in the Rajya Sabha has neither been contested nor considered so far.
Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Brinda Karat, who has been in the forefront of the demand for reservation of seats for women, said the Rajya Sabha issue did come up for discussion as far back as in 1996.
“The issue was discussed in 1996. But we said that without the basic reservation for SCs/STs that the Constitution has mandated, we can't ask for reservation for women in Rajya Sabha. It was a conscious decision.''
Union Law Minister Veerappa Moily too said that “there is no concept of reservation for SC/ST in the upper house and as such reservation for women was not applicable.''
According to the Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha and former Law Minister Arun Jaitley the issue was open. What has been debated is reservation in direct elections. “The issue of reservation in the Rajya Sabha is not part of the agenda.''
The Standing Committee headed by Congress leader Jayanthi Natarajan did look at the issue. Said Ms. Natarajan: “We have said [in our recommendations] that reservation for women in Rajya Sabha can be considered later. Constitutionally there is no SC/ST reservation as it is a council of states.''
Asked if she would like to see reservation for women in the Rajya Sabha, she said, “Why not?''
Communist Party of India leader D. Raja feels that while women who get elected through direct elections could send their representatives to the upper house but adds that it was an issue that could “certainly'' be considered at a later stage.