21 September 2023, New Delhi
A historic moment unfolded on Thursday night as the 128th Constitution Amendment Bill of 2023 secured unanimous approval in the Rajya Sabha. This landmark legislation, known as ‘The Constitution (One Hundred and Twenty-Eighth Amendment) Bill, 2023," marks a significant turning point in India's political landscape. It proposes the reservation of 33% or one-third of seats in both the Lok Sabha and state Assemblies for women.
Earlier on Wednesday, this pivotal amendment was ratified by a decisive two-thirds majority in the Lok Sabha. With the Rajya Sabha's unanimous endorsement, this transformative bill has now received the green light from both houses of Parliament. This momentous achievement reflects a giant stride toward achieving gender equality in India's legislative bodies and represents a crucial chapter in the nation's history.
The Women's Reservation Bill became the first law passed in the new Parliament building. It received unanimous approval in the Upper House with 214 votes in favor and none against it. Chairman Jagdeep Dhankhar oversaw the voting, with no abstentions. This achievement marked the conclusion of the special session, highlighting the significance of gender equality in India's politics.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi praised the passage of the women's quota bill as a "defining moment in our nation's democratic journey." He expressed his gratitude to all the Rajya Sabha members who supported the Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam.
In a WhatsApp Channels post, PM Modi congratulated the 140 crore Indians and thanked the Rajya Sabha MPs for their unanimous support. He emphasised that this legislation signifies stronger representation and empowerment for women in India, paying tribute to the resilience and contributions of countless women who have enriched the nation.
PM Modi noted that this historic step is a commitment to ensuring the effective representation of women's voices in the nation's decision-making processes.
The 'Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam,' or Women's Reservation Bill, aims to reserve 33% of seats for women in the Lok Sabha, state legislative assemblies, and the Delhi assembly. This quota does not apply to the Rajya Sabha or state Legislative Councils.
The implementation of seat reservations will occur after delimitation is carried out following the publication of relevant figures from the first census.
In the Lok Sabha, the bill received overwhelming support, with 454 members in favour and two opposing it. In the Rajya Sabha, it passed unanimously, marking a historic moment. This bill, which had been pending for over 25 years, was finally passed during a special session of Parliament.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah praised the passage of the Bill, stating, "Where there is a will, there is a way." He celebrated it as a historic milestone on the journey towards equitable governance. Shah noted that by fulfilling this long-pending demand, Prime Minister Modi has sent a powerful message of gender equality and inclusive governance worldwide. He expressed his heartfelt gratitude to Modi Ji and congratulated every citizen on this significant achievement.
Minister Nirmala Sitharaman emphasised the importance of building consensus for the economic and social empowerment of women. In response to Opposition criticism about the timing of the Bill's introduction after nine years, she pointed out that the government has implemented various schemes for the socio-economic empowerment of women since 2014.
Sitharaman highlighted key initiatives, including the distribution of over 9 crore gas connections under Ujjwala, the construction of 11.72 crore toilets, the Beti Padhao, Beti Bachao Yojana aimed at achieving gender balance, the extension of paid maternity leave from 12 to 26 weeks, and providing 9.82 crore paid tap connections.
She noted that the government has introduced reservations for women constables in the Central Armed Police Forces and has opened opportunities for women in institutions like the National Defence Academy and Sainik Schools. These measures collectively demonstrate the government's commitment to advancing the status and opportunities of women in India.
Nirmala Sitharaman also drew connections between women's empowerment and significant policy changes, such as the revocation of Article 370 and criminalising instant triple talaq. She highlighted that Article 370 had previously prevented women who married outside the state of Jammu and Kashmir from inheriting property, and instant triple talaq, though absent in many Muslim-majority countries, was allowed in India for an extended period. She emphasised that the government's focus was on justice for women rather than appeasement.
Sitharaman also explained that it wasn't feasible to provide reservations in the Rajya Sabha since its members are not directly elected.
Addressing the question regarding the special session, Nirmala Sitharaman explained that the government's intention was to inaugurate the new parliamentary building with the passage of this important legislation. She expressed gratitude to members from various political parties for their support in this endeavour.
Regarding the delay in delimitation until 2026, she cited the 42nd Constitutional Amendment Act, which was enacted during the Emergency, as the reason for freezing the date until 2000. Subsequently, in 2002, it was again frozen until 2026. Sitharaman pointed out that Article 82 mandates seat readjustments after each Census, not only in the Lok Sabha but also within states.
In response to criticism from Congress member K C Venugopal about senior BJP leaders voting against the Constitutional Amendment of 1989 for women's quota in local bodies, Sitharaman noted that opposition to the amendment was not limited to one party. She highlighted that several regional leaders, including M Karunanidhi, Jyoti Basu, and N T Rama Rao, had also opposed it, as they believed it could encroach upon states' powers.