New Delhi: In a noteworthy development, the Women's Reservation Bill, designed to secure a 33 per cent quota for women in the Lok Sabha and state legislative assemblies, was officially presented in the Lok Sabha on September 19th. Prime Minister Narendra Modi hailed this historic occasion as a significant step forward for women in Indian politics. The bill, formally known as the 'Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam,' has been a long-standing aspiration and was originally introduced nearly 30 years ago. If passed, it could potentially elevate the number of women Members of Parliament (MPs) in the Lok Sabha from the current 82 to 181.
In the backdrop of a decades-long struggle to bring this bill to fruition, Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury attributed its origins to the Congress party. He emphasised the persistent efforts made by past Congress governments, including those led by Rajiv Gandhi, PV Narasimha Rao, and Manmohan Singh, to pass this groundbreaking legislation. Despite its passage in the Rajya Sabha during the Congress regime under Manmohan Singh, the bill remained unenacted, creating an enduring political debate.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah, however, countered this claim, asserting that the bill had already lapsed. Numerous attempts and complexities over the years have marked the journey of the Women's Reservation Bill.
The Constitution (One Hundred and Twenty-Eighth Amendment) Bill, 2023, introduces critical articles and clauses into the Constitution, with the aim of empowering women in Indian politics:
New Clause in 239AA: This clause mandates the reservation of seats for women in the Delhi Legislative Assembly. It also dictates that one-third of the seats designated for Scheduled Castes (SCs) will be reserved for women, along with one-third of the total seats filled through direct elections.
New Article - 330A: This article focuses on reserving seats for women in the Lok Sabha. It establishes that one-third of the seats reserved for SCs and Scheduled Tribes (STs) must also be reserved for women. Additionally, one-third of the total seats filled through direct elections to the Lok Sabha will be reserved for women.
New Article - 332A: Addressing reserved seats for women in every state Legislative Assembly, this article parallels Article 330A. It mandates that one-third of the seats reserved for SCs and STs shall be reserved for women, along with one-third of the total seats filled through direct elections to the Legislative Assembly.
New Article - 334A: This article outlines that the reservation shall come into effect after the delimitation process following the publication of pertinent figures from the first census. It also establishes a rotation system for seats allocated to women after each subsequent delimitation exercise.
The Women's Reservation Bill's journey dates back to 1996 when it was initially introduced in the Lok Sabha during the Deve Gowda-led United Front government. Despite subsequent attempts in 1998, 1999, 2002, and 2003, the bill failed to garner the necessary support for passage.
In 2008, during the UPA government led by Manmohan Singh, the bill was presented in the Rajya Sabha and successfully passed in 2010. However, it remained unconsidered in the Lok Sabha and eventually lapsed with the dissolution of the 15th Lok Sabha in 2014.
The current reintroduction of the Women's Reservation Bill in the Lok Sabha signifies a renewed effort to address gender disparity in Indian politics. It carries the potential to bring about a historic transformation in the representation of women in the country's legislative bodies. The bill's trajectory will be closely observed as it navigates the intricacies of parliamentary debate and decision-making.