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Women's Reservation Bill: 20 years on, legislation for adequate representation in Assemblies still in limbo

After Congress president Sonia Gandhi wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday, urging him to get the Women's Reservation Bill passed in the Lok Sabha, the government may now take the Bill out of cold storage. The Bill seeks to reserve one-third of seats in the Lok Sabha and state Assemblies for women.

A senior BJP leader on Thursday said top echelons of the government and the party have been brainstorming over the Bill, which had polarised the political class whenever various governments introduced it earlier.

Parliament of India. PTI

Parliament of India. PTI

The Rajya Sabha had passed the Bill on 9 March, 2010.

The Bill is unique in the way it has polarised opinions as despite getting public support from all major national parties, including the BJP, Congress and the Left. However, it has drawn fierce opposition from some regional outfits and MPs from backward classes.

What the Women's Reservation Bill is all about? 

Women's Reservation Bill [The Constitution (108th Amendment) Bill, 2008] commonly known as the Women's Reservation Bill was introduced by the UPA-I government in May 2008, says PRS Legislative Research.

The Bill says that one third of the total number of seats in the Lok Sabha and the legislative Assemblies should be reserved for women from Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. It adds that reservation of seats for women shall cease to exist 15 years after the commencement of this amendment.


Why the Bill has been lingering for years?

The Bill was first introduced by the Deve Gowda government on 12 September, 1996, according to The Hindu report.  Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s NDA government re-introduced the Bill in the 12th Lok Sabha in 1998, adds the report.

In the 13th Lok Sabha in 1999, and twice in Parliament in 2003 the Bill was re-introduced, only to be included by the UPA government in 2004 in its Common Minimum Programme.

As it is a Constitution Amendment Bill, according to DNA, it requires a special majority for its passage in each House — a majority of the total membership of a House (absolute majority) and by a majority of not less than two-thirds of the members of that House present and voting.

Many OBC MPs cutting across party lines, including the BJP and the Congress, hold the view that the Bill will give advantage to women from upper castes, who are better educated and more resourceful.

Parties like the RJD, JD(U) and Samajwadi Party have been demanding that the Bill must also allow a special quota for women from underprivileged section, states a Hindustan Times report.

According to The Wire one of the major concerns regarding the Bill has been that, reservation of seats in parliament restricts choice of voters to women candidates. Hence, some experts have suggested alternate methods such as reservation in political parties and dual-member constituencies.

What is the future of the Bill? 

If the Bill is to be approved by the Lok Sabha, it would then have to be passed by half of India’s state legislatures and signed by the President.

With inputs from PTI

Updated Date: Sep 22, 2017 14:31 PM

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