The Union Cabinet has cleared the Women’s reservation bill to be tabled in the Lok Sabha, sources said today. The development comes amid a special 5-day session of the Parliament.
Women MPs account for less than 15 per cent of Lok Sabha strength while their representation is below 10 per cent in many state assemblies, data shows for the women reservation bill pending for nearly 27 years.
The last concrete development on the issue was in 2010 when Rajya Sabha passed the bill amid marshals escorting out some MPs who opposed the move to reserve 33 per cent seats for women in Lok Sabha and state assemblies, but the bill lapsed as it could not be passed by Lok Sabha.
While the BJP and the Congress have always supported the bill, opposition by other parties and demands from some for quota for backward classes within the women’s quota have been key sticking points.
Several parties on Sunday made a strong pitch for bringing and passing the women’s reservation bill in the five-day Parliament session beginning Monday, but the government said an “appropriate decision will be taken at the appropriate time”.
In the present Lok Sabha, 78 women members were elected which account for less than 15 per cent of the total strength of 543.
In Rajya Sabha too, women’s representation is about 14 per cent, according to the data shared by the government with Parliament last December.
Several state assemblies have less than 10 per cent women representation, including Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Goa, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Manipur, Meghalaya, Odisha, Sikkim, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Tripura and Puducherry.
Bihar, Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan, Uttrakhand, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi had 10-12 per cent women MLAs, according to the government data of December 2022. Chattisgarh, West Bengal and Jharkhand led the charts with 14.44 per cent, 13.7 per cent and 12.35 per cent women MLAs, respectively.
In the last few weeks, several parties including the BJD and the BRS have demanded reviving the bill, while Congress also passed a resolution at its Hyderabad Congress Working Committee meeting on Sunday.
While it’s not known what percentage of reservation can be proposed in a new bill, the 2008 Bill, which was passed in Rajya Sabha in 2010 before it lapsed following the dissolution of Lok Sabha, proposed reserving one-third of all seats in Lok Sabha and legislative assemblies in each state for women. The UPA was in power when the last attempt was made to pass the bill.
According to a write-up available on PRS Legislative, it also proposed quota-within-quota for SCs, STs and Anglo-Indians, while reserved seats were to be rotated after each general election.
It meant that after a cycle of three elections, all constituencies would have been reserved once.
The reservation was to be operational for 15 years.
Before the failed attempt of 2008-2010, the issue had a chequered history as a similar bill was introduced in 1996, 1998 and 1999.
A Joint Parliamentary Committee chaired by Geeta Mukherjee had examined the 1996 Bill and made seven recommendations.
Five of these were included in the 2008 Bill, including the 15-year reservation period and sub-reservation for Anglo Indians.
These also included reservation in cases where a state has less than three seats in Lok Sabha (or less than three seats for SCs/STs); reservation for the Delhi assembly; and changing “not less than one-third” to “as nearly as may be, one-third”.
Two of the recommendations were not incorporated in the 2008 Bill; the first was for reserving seats in Rajya Sabha and Legislative Councils and the second was for sub-reservation for OBC women after the Constitution extends reservation to OBCs.
The 2008 Bill was referred to the Standing Committee on Law and Justice, but it failed to reach a consensus in its final report.
The Committee recommended that the Bill “be passed in Parliament and put in action without further delay”.
Two members of the Committee, Virender Bhatia and Shailendra Kumar (both belonging to the Samajwadi Party) dissented stating that they were not against providing reservation to women but disagreed with the way this Bill was drafted.
They had recommended that every political party must distribute 20 per cent of its tickets to women, the reservation should not exceed 20 per cent of seats and there should be a quota for women belonging to OBCs and minorities.
The standing committee also considered other methods of increasing representation.
One suggestion was to ask political parties to nominate women for a minimum percentage of seats, but the committee felt that parties could bypass the spirit of the law by nominating women to seats where there were prospects of loss.
Another recommendation was to create dual-member constituencies, with women filling one of the two seats from those constituencies.
The Committee believed that this move could “result in women being reduced to a subservient status, which will defeat the very purpose of the Bill”, the PRS said.
The Committee concluded that the issue of reservations to Rajya Sabha and Legislative Councils needed to be examined thoroughly as the upper houses play an equally important role under the Constitution.
On the issue of reservation to OBC women, the Committee said that “all other issues may be considered at an appropriate time by the government without any further delay at the present time in the passage of the Bill”.
The 2008 bill was opposed by SP, RJD and JD(U), though parties have publicly expressed their support for it.
The government will need two-thirds support in each House of Parliament for the bill to be taken up for consideration and passing.
Many feel it is not possible to reserve seats in Rajya Sabha due to the existing system of elections to the upper house.
Members of state assemblies elect Rajya Sabha MPs through a single transferable vote, which means that the votes are first allocated to the most preferred candidate, and then to the next preferred candidate, and so on.
This system cannot accommodate the principle of reserving a certain number of seats for a particular group. Currently, Rajya Sabha does not have reservations for SCs and STs.
Therefore, any system that provides reservation in Rajya Sabha implies that the Constitution must be amended to jettison the Single Transferable Vote system.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)