Even before India's independence, discussions about increasing women's participation in politics were taking place. In the 1970s, this issue gained momentum. The idea of women's reservation has been all about ensuring that women have a fair chance to be a part of important decision-making processes. This means setting aside specific seats in places like Parliament and state legislatures exclusively for women.
And guess what? The historic Women's Reservation Bill, which passed through the Rajya Sabha in a special parliamentary session, got the President's approval!
In this article, we'll delve into the Women's Reservation Act, along with its key highlights and implications.
What is the Women Reservation Act?
In the Parliament’s Special Session, a proposed legislation to ensure 33% reservation (one-third seats) for women in the Lok Sabha, Delhi Assembly and state Assemblies was cleared by the Union Cabinet and the Rajya Sabha. "The 'Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam' will ensure more women become members of Parliament, assemblies," as stated by PM Modi in his first speech.
Highlights of the Women Reservation Act
The Constitution (One Hundred and Eighth Amendment) Bill, 2008 aimed to introduce reservation for women in the Lok Sabha’s one-third seats and in the Delhi assembly along with the state legislative assemblies.
The allocation of such reserved seats shall be determined by such authority as prescribed by the Parliament.
Key Issues and Analysis
Critics argue that reservation policy sustains gender inequality by not promoting merit-based competition.
Critics say reservation policy diverts attention from larger electoral reform issues like politics' criminalization and inner party democracy.
Reserving Parliament seats limits voter choice to women candidates.
Experts suggest alternatives like party-level reservations and dual member constituencies.
Rotating reserved constituencies might reduce MPs' incentive to work for their areas.
A 1996 report recommended OBC women's reservation and inclusion in Rajya Sabha and Legislative Councils, but the Bill hasn't incorporated these suggestions.
History of Women’s Reservation Bill in Parliament
1. First Seed planted by former PM Rajiv Gandhi
In May 1989, the former PM Rajiv Gandhi first planted the seed of women's reservation in elected bodies by introducing the Constitution Amendment Bill, providing for one-third reservation for women in rural and urban local bodies. The Bill was passed in Lok Sabha but not in Rajya Sabha.
Later, in 1992 and 1993, then Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao reintroduced the Constitution Amendment Bills 72 and 73, which reserved one-third (33%) of all seats and chairperson posts for women in rural and urban local bodies. The Bills were passed by both houses and became an Act. So, there are nearly 15 lakh elected women representatives in Panchayats and Nagarpalikas in the entire nation.
2. Deve Gowda Govt. brought the first women’s reservation Bill
The Constitutional amendments were followed by demands for reservation in the legislature for many years. In 1996, the PM H D Deve Gowda government tabled The Constitution (81st Amendment) Bill, which sought to reserve one-third of seats for women in Parliament and state assemblies.
Many MPs supported the passage of this Bill unanimously on the same day. However, other MPs, especially those belonging to the OBCs, protested strongly, either opposing the Bill or seeking modifications in it. However, the Bill lapsed with the dissolution of the Lok Sabha.
3. The Gujral Govt.'s failed efforts to reach a consensus on Women reservation bill
In 1997, the Deve Gowda government was forced to resign by Sitaram Kesri’s Congress, and Inder Kumar Gujral became the Prime Minister. All-party meetings were held in two rounds, but no decision was made regarding the Bill. On May 16th, 1997, when the Bill was taken up again, OBC MPs led the opposition.
Introduction of Women Reservation Bill in Rajya Sabha
The Women Reservation Bill again gained momentum during the reign of Manmohan Singh-led UPA government-1. In 2004, the government included it in its Common Minimum Programme and finally tabled it in Rajya Sabha in 2008 to prevent it from lapsing again in the Upper House. The Bill was eventually passed in the Rajya Sabha on March 9th, 2010.
However, the Bill was never taken up for consideration in the Lok Sabha and eventually lapsed in 2014 with the dissolution of the 15th Lok Sabha. But, Bills introduced or passed in Rajya Sabha, like in this case, do not lapse. Hence the Women's Reservation Bill was still active.
What is Delimitation of Constituencies?
This Act is most likely to come into effect after the 2029 elections due to the first delimitation of constituencies and the Census. In India, delimitation of constituencies means deciding how to divide the country into smaller areas for elections, ensuring that each constituency has an approximately equal number of voters. They do this so that each area has a similar number of people who can vote.
For example: After counting the population in 2001, they changed the boundaries of where people vote to make sure it's fair and equal for everyone. This helps in making elections fair and ensures that no area has more power than it should.
Hence, the current status is that the bill has now become an Act which is most likely to come into effect after the first delimitation of constituencies. Even if enacted now, this women's reservation cannot be implemented before the 2029 elections. This bill is said to increase women's representation in Indian politics as it permits the rotation of reserved seats for women in the Lok Sabha, State Assemblies, and the Delhi Assembly after each subsequent delimitation exercise, as determined by the Parliament.