13 years on, no political consensus on women’s quota bill

New Delhi, March 2 (Calcutta Tube) Opposition from three political parties may still derail the bill seeking to reserve 33 percent seats in parliament and state legislatures for women.

Though the union cabinet decided last Thursday it would introduce the bill, it does not have the numbers in the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of parliament, to get it passed.

The three parties — the Samajwadi Party (SP), the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the Janata Dal-United (JD-U) — are demanding a quota for weaker sections within this one-third quota.

The SP and the RJD have threatened to withdraw support to the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) if the government forces the legislation in its present form through parliament. The JD-U has said the government should strive to build consensus on the issue.

The bill provides for reservation of seats for women for 15 years from the date of commencement of the act on rotational basis. The proposal for providing reservation to women in legislatures has been pending for over 13 years — since 1996 when it was first brought to parliament by the H.D. Deve Gowda government.

In its present form, the Constitution (108th Amendment) Bill, 2008, has the backing of the Congress, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Left.

For the bill to be passed, it has to be supported by two-thirds of those present and voting. This figure should also be at least 50 percent of the total number of MPs in the house.

The Congress, BJP and Left together have 348 MPs in the 545 member Lok Sabha — close to the two-thirds mark. In the Rajya Sabha, their number adds up to 138 against the two-thirds majority figure of 162.

The government is hoping for support from smaller parties while mustering the required numbers.

The bill was introduced in Rajya Sabha in 2008 and was referred to the standing committee on law and justice that gave its report in December 2009.

President Pratibha Patil in her address to parliament Feb 22 had said the government was committed to the early passage of the bill.

According to the SP, the legislation in its present form will only facilitate entry of women from affluent and urban backgrounds in assemblies and parliament.

‘The real purpose of the legislation to empower rural women will be defeated. There should be reservation for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, other backward classes and minorities,’ Shailendra Kumar, SP MP from Kaushambi in Uttar Pradesh, told IANS.

He said reservation for women should be left to political parties, and ‘parties which do not give representation to women according to stipulated norms should be de-recognised’.

RJD MP Rajniti Prasad said the party wanted reservation for weaker sections within the 33 percent quota for women. ‘We will not agree to the bill in its present form. The party can also withdraw its support to the government on the issue.’ he said.

JD-U spokesperson Javed Raza said the government should convene an all-party meeting on the bill and build consensus. ‘We will also raise the issue at meeting of National Democratic Alliance,’ he said.

BJP spokesperson Prakash Javadekar said his party had already declared its support for the bill and it was for the government to declare its intention.

He added the BJP was also open to alternative suggestions such as double-member constituencies.

Communist Party of India-Marxist leader Basudeb Acharia said his party had no problems. ‘They should bring the bill now.’

‘The original idea of reservation for women came from former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi. The Congress president (Sonia Gandhi) is emotionally attached to the issue. We want it to come as soon as possible but it is for the government to decide the timing,’ added party spokesperson Shakeel Ahmed.

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