Womer reservation bill a lot in talk after a surprise announcement of a special session of Parliament from September 18 to 22, it’s been widely speculated that the women’s bill could be introduced and passed to gain electoral mileage. Will Women bill in Parliament session this year come in september big question.
The Constitution (108th amendment) Bill, 2008—better known as the Women Reservation Bill —sought to reserve one-third of all seats for women in the Lok Sabha and the state legislative assemblies. In other words, 181 of the 543 seats in the Lok Sabha and 1,370 out of a total of 4,129 seats in the state Assemblies across the country would be blocked for women. Besides, one-third of the seats reserved for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes were to be reserved for women of those communities in the Lok Sabha and the legislative assemblies. It also provided for the rotation of reserved seats and an end date for the women’s quota—15 years after the bill was enacted. The legislation was passed in the Rajya Sabha in 2010 but was never taken up in the Lower House and lapsed with the dissolution of the 15th Lok Sabha in 2014.
Why in news now ?
The Women’s Reservation Bill was never out of the news. Two recent developments have brought the floodlights back on it. First, former Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS) MP and the current MLC, K Kavitha, the daughter of BRS chief K Chandrashekar Rao, staged a six-hour protest at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar seeking the passage of the bill. CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury was the chief guest at the protest while more than 10 political parties, including the Samajwadi Party, Rashtriya Janata Dal and Rashtriya Lok Dal, joined it. Ironically, most of these parties had been staunchly against the legislation in the past. Kavitha’s protest drew eyeballs as it was staged on March 9, a day before she had to appear before the Enforcement Directorate for her alleged role in the Delhi excise scam. The BJP dismissed it as a ploy to change the headline on the scam.
Second, after a surprise announcement of a special session of Parliament from September 18 to 22, it’s been widely speculated that the women reservation bill could be introduced and passed to derive electoral mileage. In 2014, the BJP promised 33% reservation for women in its manifesto and repeated the promise in 2019. Analysts believe that by passing the bill now, the BJP could win the crucial support of the female electorate, while also catching its rivals by surprise in the run-up to 2024 Lok Sabha polls. Since the BJP has a massive majority in the Lok Sabha, the bill can easily sail through, 13 years after it was passed by an overwhelming majority by the Rajya Sabha in 2010.
What happened in 2010 about women reservation bill?
The bill was introduced in the Rajya Sabha in May, 2008 and referred to a standing committee. On June 4, 2009, while addressing the first session of 15th Lok Sabha, President Pratibha Patil listed the 100-day agenda of UPA-II government, which included the early passage of the Women Reservation Bill and a constitutional amendment to provide 50% quota for women in panchayats and urban local bodies. Though it didn’t happen within the promised 100 days, nine months later, Rajya Sabha passed the Women’s Reservation Bill on March 9, 2010. Drafted during UPA-I, it was pushed through in UPA-II with unequivocal support from the primary opposition BJP and the Left in the Upper House where ruling coalition was in a minority.
At the time of voting, the effective strength of the 245-member House was 233. However, only 187 members voted and the bill was passed with a thumping majority of 186-1 after two days of high drama that saw the suspension of seven members who violently disrupted the proceedings. UPA ally Trinamool Congress, with two members in the Rajya Sabha, did not participate in the voting. BSP, having 12 members, walked out of the House saying the women reservation bill did not contain amendments suggested by it. The JD(U) and its then president Sharad Yadav were its most vocal opponents. However, its members in the RS voted in favour of the legislation. The SP, which opposed it, demanded 33% reservation for backward groups within the 33% quota for women.
For their part, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Leader of Opposition Arun Jaitley described the measure as momentous and historic. The bill was passed by the Upper House 14 years after its first version was introduced by the United Front government in 1996 but was allowed to lapse. Bills pending in the Lok Sabha lapse with the dissolution of the House, but those pending in the Rajya Sabha are put in a ‘live register’ and can be taken up subsequently.
What need for the bill ?
In the present Lok Sabha, there are 78 women MPs, which is the highest ever, but in terms of overall share, it works out to be under 15%. The share of women in the Rajya Sabha is just 11%. It is much less than the global average. According to data from PRS legislative research, Rwanda (61%), South Africa (43%) and even Bangladesh (21%) are well ahead of India. India ranks 144 out of 193 countries in terms of the representation of women in Parliament, says the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s latest report. Those in favour of enhanced participation of women in politics point out that affirmative action is necessary to improve their condition. Some recent studies on panchayats have shown the positive effect of reservation on the empowerment of women and on the allocation of resources. Besides, the presence of women leads to gender sensitisation in lawmaking. A study by the American Economic Association shows that countries with higher share of women in Parliament are more likely to pass and implement gender-sensitive laws. After the 73rd and 74th amendments of the Constitution – which reserved one-third of all seats and chairperson posts for women in rural and urban local governments – the panchayati raj system has seen the world’s largest number of women joining the political mainstream.
Those opposing the quota argue that it would perpetuate the unequal status of women since they would not be perceived to be competing on merit. They also contend that this policy diverts attention from the larger issues of electoral reform such as criminalisation of politics and inner-party democracy. The reservation of seats in Parliament restricts the choice of voters to women candidates. Thus, some experts suggested alternative methods, such as reservation in parties and dual member constituencies, as per PRS report.
Besides, male politicians are wary of the rotation of reserved constituencies, claiming it may reduce the incentive for any MP to work for his constituency as he may be ineligible to seek re-election from the same constituency. The bill has also been opposed by politicians from socially and economically backward classes. They argue that reservation would only help women of the elitist groups to gain seats. Some also cite the example of ‘Pradhan Patis’ in UP and Bihar where women candidates contest on reserved seats but real power remains with the husbands.
Pre-Independence: Prominent women leaders like Begum Shah Nawaz and Sarojini Naidu argued against any preferential treatment, saying it would violate the integrity of Indian women’s demand for absolute equality of political status. Women’s reservation came up in Constituent Assembly debates as well, but it was rejected with the assumption that once India becomes a democracy, all social groups would be taken care of
A Committee of the Status of Women in India underlined the declining political representation of women in India and sought quota in local bodies. State govts began announcing reservations
for women in local bodies
The National Perspective Plan for Women recommended that reservation be provided to women right from the level of the panchayat to Parliament
Recommendations of the National Perspective Plan for Women resulted in the 73rd and 74th amendments to the Constitution, which mandated all state governments to reserve one-third of seats for women in panchayati raj institutions and one-third of the offices of the chairperson at all levels. Also provided for horizontal one-third reservation for SC/ST women
United Front government led by Deve Gowda tabled the Women’s Reservation Bill in the Lok Sabha as the 81st Amendment Bill but was blocked by SP’s Mulayam Singh Yadav, RJD’s Lalu Prasad and then Samata party’s Sharad Yadav. The bill was referred to a joint parliamentary committee, which submitted its report to the Lok Sabha in December, 1996. But it lapsed with the dissolution of the Lok Sabha.
Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led NDA government reintroduced it in the 12th Lok Sabha amid pandemonium. An RJD MP tore a copy of the bill in the House. It failed to get the required support and lapsed again. It was reintroduced in 1999, 2002 and 2003. By and by, more and more parties came on board to support it
Introduced as the 108th Constitution Amendment Bill, it was tabled in the Rajya Sabha and passed on March 9, 2010. That is where its journey stalled