PM Modi addressing MPs in the new Parliament building. Image: Photo by PIB / AFPO
n September 19, during his speech at the Parliament, Prime Minister Modi announced the Women's Reservation Bill [The Constitution (108th Amendment) Bill, 2008] in the Lok Sabha. The Bill, when passed, is set to provide one-third reservation to women in the lower house of Parliament, state assemblies and the Delhi legislative assembly.
As per the bill, one-third of the total number of seats reserved for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes shall be reserved for women of those groups in the Lok Sabha and the legislative assemblies. Reserved seats may be allotted by rotation to different constituencies in the state or union territory. The bill says the reservation of seats for women shall cease to exist 15 years after the commencement of the amendment act.
The Women's Reservation Bill started its challenging legislative journey nearly three decades ago, back in September 1996, when it was introduced in Parliament during the tenure of the HD Deve Gowda-led government. Since then, nearly every subsequent administration has made efforts to pass it into law. In 2010, the UPA government even managed to secure its passage in the Rajya Sabha. But, due to a shortage of political determination and agreement, the initiative ultimately did not succeed.
PM Modi, during his speech, said: “Discussion on Women’s Reservation Bill happened for a long time. During Atal Bihari Vajpayee's regime, women's reservation bill was introduced several times but there was not enough majority to pass the bill, and because of this, the dream remained incomplete. Today, God has given me the opportunity to take this forward. The 'Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam' will ensure more women become members of Parliament, assemblies.”
Out of the 250 members that make up the Rajya Sabha in India, only 31—12.4 percent—are women. In the Lok Sabha, out of 550 members, 82—14.9 percent—are women, as per Digital Sansad, a government official website. As per IPU Parline, a platform that provides global data on national parliaments, India ranks at 141 in 185 countries in terms of percentage of women in the Parliament.
When will the bill become a law?
According to The Times of India
, the women's reservation bill can only be put into action following the completion of the delimitation process, which involves the reconfiguration of assembly and Lok Sabha constituencies based on a recent census in India. This implies the bill cannot be put into effect until after the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. Under current legislation, the subsequent delimitation exercise can only be conducted after the first post-2026 census. In practical terms, this implies the bill cannot attain legal status until at least 2027. Additionally, once both Houses of Parliament pass the bill, it will also require the approval of a minimum of 50 percent of state assemblies to become law.
Key issues around the bill
- Critics argue that the bill may sustain the existing gender inequality since women might not be perceived as competing solely on merit. They also assert that this policy shifts focus away from more significant electoral reform issues, such as the criminalisation of politics and the lack of inner party democracy.
- The reservation of parliamentary seats limits voter choice to female candidates. Consequently, some experts have proposed alternative approaches, such as reservations within political parties and the implementation of dual-member constituencies.
- The periodic rotation of reserved constituencies in each election might diminish an MP's incentive to work for their constituency since they could become ineligible for re-election from that specific constituency.