What are the main features of the Women’s Reservation Bill?
The Bill proposes 33 per cent reservation for women in Lok Sabha and Assemblies of State and National Capital Territory of Delhi. Similar reservation will also be provided within the seats reserved for SC and ST. The Bill proposes that the reservation will continue for 15 years. Seats reserved for women will be rotated after each delimitation exercise.
What is the process for this Bill to finally become a law?
First, both houses of the Parliament need to pass the Bill by a special majority. Then, according to provisions of Article 368, the Constitution Amendment Bill will require ratification by at least 50 per cent of the States. Their consent is needed as it affects their rights.
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What is the history behind this Bill? (When was this mooted first and how did this proceed?)
Political empowerment of women is rightly perceived as a powerful and indispensable tool for eliminating gender inequality and discrimination. Reservation for women in Panchayats and Municipalities was provided by the insertion of articles 243D and 243T in the Constitution vide the Constitution (73rd Amendment) Act, 1992 and the Constitution (74th Amendment) Act, 1992, respectively. The next step towards this direction was the introduction of the Constitution (81st Amendment) Bill, 1996 in the Eleventh Lok Sabha on September 12, 1996, which sought to reserve not less than one-third of the total number of seats filled by direct election in the House of the People and in the Legislative Assemblies of the States for women.
The said Bill was referred to the Joint Committee of Parliament which further strengthened some of the provisions of the Bill by extending the provision of reservation for women even in those cases where the number of seats was less than three in a State or a Union territory. The Constitution (81st Amendment) Bill, 1996, as reported by the Joint Committee, however, lapsed with the dissolution of the 11th Lok Sabha.
Again, an attempt was made to provide reservation for women in Lok Sabha and the State Assemblies and in the Legislative Assembly of the National Capital Territory of Delhi for a period of fifteen years from the commencement of the proposed enactment, by introducing the Constitution (84th Amendment) Bill, 1998 in Lok Sabha on December 14, 1998. The said Bill lapsed on the dissolution of the 12th Lok Sabha.
Yet, another attempt was made by introducing the Constitution (85th Amendment) Bill, 1999, in Lok Sabha on December 23, 1999. However, this Bill also had not been pursued due to a lack of consensus amongst the political parties. The last such attempt was made in 2008 when the then Manmohan Singh government introduced the Bill in Rajya Sabha, and it was passed in 2010. After that, it became the property of Lok Sabha where it could not be passed and lapsed because of dissolution.
Will this bring about a dramatic increase in number of women in Parliament and State Assemblies?
The present Lok Sabha has a total of 542 members, out of which 78 (14.39 per cent) are female members. In a response to a Parliamentary question late last year, the government had said that the average number of women MLAs in Assemblies across the nation accounts for only 8 per cent. Now, both the Lok Sabha and States/UTs assemblies will see rise in female members, but the rise will be more dramatic in States/UTs.
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When is this likely to be implemented?
One of the provisions of the new Bill says: “The provision of the Constitution relating to the reservation of seats for women in the House of the People, the Legislative Assembly of a State, and the Legislative Assembly of the National Capital Territory of Delhi shall come into effect after an exercise of delimitation is undertaken for this purpose after the relevant figures for the first census taken after commencement of the Constitution (128th Amendment) Act 2023 have been published.”
Now as of date, there is no clarity on when the Census, which was due in 2021, will be completed. At the same time, the government has already said that as per existing law, the next delimitation exercise may be conducted after the first census to be taken after the year 2026. Keeping all these in mind, implementation can take place not before 2029.
Will there be any difficulties in passing this Bill?
The Constitution Amendment Bills have to be passed in each House of Parliament by a majority of the total membership of that House and by a majority of not less than two-thirds of the members of the House “present and voting”. Considering majority of political parties are supporting the Bill, there should not be any problem in getting the Bill passed. It is the same with all the States and UT of Delhi.