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Time for Womens’ Reservation Bill

Representative democracy presupposes fair representation of all sections of the population in the legislature. The Constitution of India granted to Indian women the right to vote and be elected at par with men – a right which was traditionally denied to women in even the most developed countries of the world. India had set an example by providing women equal participation in politics way back in 1950, yet we have not been able to attain adequate and proportionate representation of women in Lok Sabha and in state legislative assemblies. India’s ranking in Women in Parliament world ranking is at a lowly 149th position as per the data released by the Inter-Parliamentary Union in 2019.

A major landmark in our constitutional history was made when the Constitution (Seventy-third Amendment) Act 1992 provided for one-third of seats in Panchayats and the Constitution (Seventy-fourth Amendment) Act 1992 provided for reservation of not less than one-third of seats to women in Panchayats and Municipalities.

Encouraged by the success of this reservation in Panchayats and municipalities the Constitution (Eighty-first Amendment) Bill 1996 providing for reservation of not less than 33% of seats for women in Lok Sabha and State Legislative Assemblies, was first tabled in the Lok Sabha on September 12, 1996. A Joint Parliamentary Committee chaired by Geeta Mukherjee examined this Bill and made several recommendations. But the Bill could not be passed and lapsed with the dissolution of Lok Sabha. Subsequently, similar Bills were introduced in 1998 and 1999 – both of which lapsed after the dissolution of the respective Lok-Sabha’s. In 2008, the Bill was again introduced in Rajya Sabha and was referred to the Standing Committee on Law and Justice and the Committee recommended that the Bill “be passed in Parliament and put in action without further delay”. The 2008 Bill incorporated five of the Geeta Mukherjee Committee’s recommendations. It was passed by Rajya Sabha in 2008 itself but could not be passed by the then Lok Sabha and still awaits the latter’s approval.

Historically, there has been an exclusion of women from the polity. For meaningful empowerment, women must find adequate representation in legislative bodies. Women comprise half the population in the country and proportionate reservation of seats for women is necessary to enhance women’s participation in the decision/policy-making process. I am happy to note that women form 14.6% of the total strength of the 17th Lok Sabha, highest since Independence.

Since all major political parties have committed in their Political Manifestos to provide reservation to women in Lok Sabha and the State Legislative Assemblies, it is time for all the political parties and other stakeholders to come together and redeem their promise by the enactment of this landmark legislation without any further delay. Four Lok Sabhas failed to pass this bill. Let the 17th Lok Sabha finally pass this Bill.

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