The Union government introduced a Bill to provide one-third reservation to women in the Lok Sabha and State Assemblies as the historic first legislation in the new Parliament House on Tuesday, but the fine print ensures that the quota will not be implemented in next year’s general election.
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The Constitution (One Hundred and Twenty Eighth) Amendment Bill, 2023 can be implemented only after a delimitation exercise is completed, using data from the latest census conducted after the passage of the Bill. The next delimitation exercise, or redrawing of constituency boundaries, is scheduled to be held in 2026. Effectively, this means that the earliest implementation of the women’s quota in the Lok Sabha can be in the 2029 general election, rather than in next year’s polls.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi appealed to both the Houses of Parliament to pass the Bill through consensus after recalling how previous attempts to pass such a Bill have failed for the last 27 years. He said that September 19 was a date that would be etched in history, adding that God had chosen him for this “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. 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,” Mr. Modi said in his first speech in the new Lok Sabha chamber, amid thumping of desks by members.
Needs Opposition support in RS
In the Rajya Sabha, where the government will have to rely on the Opposition’s support to get the two-third majority needed to pass a constitutional amendment Bill, Mr. Modi said, “This is such a subject that deserves consensus and I appeal to the members of the Rajya Sabha to support the Bill when it comes here.”
The Bill, referred to as the Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam, was introduced by Law Minister Arjun Meghwal in the Lok Sabha. Going by the Lower House’s current strength, the number of its women members will rise to 181 from the present 82 once the law comes into force, he said.
Sub-quota for SC, ST only
Within the women’s quota itself, one-third of the seats will be reserved for women belonging to the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes. There is, however, no separate quota for women belonging to other backward classes, an issue flagged by Congress president and Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Mallikarjun Kharge, in his speech in the new chamber for the Upper House.
Once it becomes an Act, the law will be in force for 15 years. The seats reserved for women will be rotated after every delimitation exercise.
Only 15% women MPs
The Bill noted that though women participate substantially in panchayati raj institutions and municipal bodies, their representation in the State legislatures and in Parliament is still limited. Women MPs constitute a mere 15% of the Lok Sabha, and only account for about 10% of members in many State Assemblies.
“In order to enable greater participation of women as public representatives in policy making at state and national level, it is decided to introduce a fresh legislation for constitutional amendment to provide for as nearly as maybe, one-third of total seats in the House of People, the legislative Assembly of every state and the legislative Assembly of the National Capital Territory of Delhi to be reserved for women,” says the Statement of Objects and Reasons of the Bill.
May increase LS seats
Bills to carve out a women’s quota have been brought in earlier under the leadership of then-Prime Minister Deve Gowda in 1996, and the late Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 1998 and 1999. The Manmohan Singh-led government introduced such a Bill in the Rajya Sabha in 2008. After being passed by the Upper House, it was sent to the Lok Sabha, and ultimately lapsed because the Lower House had not passed it until its dissolution in 2014.
The clause linking the implementation of the women’s quota to delimitation was not present in that 2008 Bill. The fact that the current Bill cannot be implemented until the 2026 delimitation taking into account the latest census means that the Union government may be envisaging an increase in the number of Lok Sabha seats. In the new Parliament building, the chamber for the Lok Sabha can accommodate 888 MPs.