The Women’s Reservation Bill is once again in the news amid a special session of Parliament. Some regional parties and Congress MPs pressed the demand for the passage of the bill in Parliament during an all-party meeting held on Sunday. They demand the bill to be passed in the new Parliament building during the special session. However, the government made no official reaction to their demand.
What is the Women’s Reservation Bill?
The bill seeks to reserve one-third of all seats for women in the Lok Sabha and state legislative assemblies. 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 amid a renewed push for the women reservation bill pending for nearly 27 years. The bill was initially introduced in the parliament on September 12, 1996.
Who all are in support?
Virtually or in spirit, all parties are in support of the bill yet no concrete action has been taken in the last 13 years to materialise the proposal. Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury after the meeting said, “All opposition parties demanded the passage of women’s reservation bill in this Parliament session.” BJP ally and NCP leader Praful Patel said, “We appeal to the government to pass the women’s reservation bill in this Parliament session.” Several regional parties including the BJD and the BRS also pushed for tabling of the bill. BJD MP Pinaki Misra said a new era should begin from the new Parliament building and the women’s reservation bill should be passed.
BRS leader Kavitha has been a prominent voice in renewing the demand for the passage of the bill in the parliament. In fact, she sat on a hunger strike and held agitation with leaders from other political parties and civil society organisations across India in March 2023.
Current status of the bill
The last concrete development on the issue was in 2010 when Rajya Sabha passed the bill amid a ruckus with 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.
The biggest barrier – quota within quota
Some regional parties demand quota for backward classes and Scheduled Castes within the overall reservation for women. This has been a key sticking point in the passage of the bill earlier.
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.
Earlier, Lalu Prasad Yadav-led RJD, Nitish Kumar‘s JD-U and Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party (SP) opposed the draft of the bill as they demanded quota within quota for the backward class when the bill was tabled back in 2008 and 2010. However now, the stand of these regional parties has been softened over the years and now leaders of these parties become frontiers who are advocating the quota for women.
Recommendations for the bill
Two of the recommendations – 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 were not incorporated in the 2008 Bill. 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.
Why the bill is needed?
The representation of half of the population in the parliament and state assembly is not up to the mark. 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.
Last discussion on the bill in Parliament
While it remains to be seen 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.
The journey of the bill so far
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.
(With PTI inputs)