PM confident of women’s quota bill passage

New Delhi, March 6 (IANS) Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Saturday stressed his government’s commitment to political empowerment of women and said India was moving towards 33 percent reservation for women in the parliament and state legislatures.

‘We are moving towards providing one third reservation for women in the Lok Sabha and state legislatures,’ Manmohan Singh said at a leadership summit for women here.

‘As we approach International Women’s Day, let me once against reaffirm our government’s commitment to all-round social, economic and political empowerment of our women, whatever effort and resources the task might take,’ the prime minister said.

Alluding to a slew of steps taken by his government to enhance women’s political participation, Manmohan Singh said nearly 40 percent of elected representatives in the village panchayats (village councils) are now women.

‘We hope to give this movement of political participation of women further fillip by increasing the number of seats reserved in panchayats and city and town governments to 50 percent,’ he said, adding that constitutional amendment bills implementing this have already been introduced in parliament.

The prime minister’s remarks underlined his government’s confidence in the smooth passage of the bill in parliament.

The bill, to be presented in Rajya Sabha on Monday, International Women’s Day, will amend the Constitution to reserve 33 percent of seats in parliament and the state legislatures for women.

Stressing that India has still a long way to go in the direction of women’s empowerment, Manmohan Singh said: ‘Gender based disparities have remained the most prevalent form of exclusion globally and, more so, in the developing world.’

‘These disparities are discernible in several indicators of human development such as literacy, maternal and infant mortality rates and life expectancy at birth,’ he said.

‘While we have shown considerable improvement in such indicators over the years, the progress has been much slower than what we would have liked,’ the prime minister said, adding that the maternal mortality rate in India continues to be ‘exceptionally high’.

The Congress leadership has approached Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief Lalu Prasad and the Samajwadi Party for a consensus on the bill. Lalu Prasad met Manmohan Singh Friday and demanded that the government convene an all-party meeting on the bill before introducing it in parliament.

The Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came together on the women’s bill Friday and issued whips, asking their MPs to be present in the Rajya Sabha on Monday and to support the bill.

In its present form, the Constitution (108th Amendment) Bill, 2008, has the backing of the Congress, the BJP and the Left. But it is being opposed by the Samajwadi Party, the RJD and the Janata Dal-United (JD-U), though on Saturday JD-U leader and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar came out in open support of the bill.

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.

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