It was a momentous development when the Women's Reservation Bill was passed by the Rajya Sabha on the 9th of March, 2010. For more than ten years now, the Bill has led to heated debates in the Parliament, with supporters saying that it will pave the way for an active participation of women in politics, and detractors saying that it will benefit only a narrow spectrum of privileged women. Let us take a look at what the Bill has to offer, and what the controversy is all about.

What does the Women's Reservation Bill provide?

  • The Women's Reservation Bill is a proposed legislation to reserve 33.3 per cent of seats in Parliament and State legislatures for women. This would mean reserving 181 of the 543 seats in the Lok Sabha and 1,370 out of a total of 4,109 seats in the 28 State Assemblies for women. In case of seats reserved for SC-ST candidates, 33.3 percent would have to be reserved for women. The reservation of seats is proposed to be on rotation basis, which means that the 33.3 % seats reserved in one election would cease to be reserved in the next election. In its place, another set of seats totaling 33.3 % would get reserved. The provision for reservation is proposed to be in place for 15 years.

  • The Bill is an extension of the 33.3 % reservation of seats for women in the Panchayats to the State Legislatures and the Pm-ti1Gllent. Reservation for women in Panchayats has resulted in probably one of the largest mobilization of women in public life in the world.

How did the Bill originate?

  • The proposed legislation was first introduced in the Lok Sabha on September 12, 1996 by the United Front government as the 81 st Constitutional Amendment Bill. In 1998 it was re-introduced in the 12th Lok Sabha as the 84th Constitutional Amendment Bill by the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government. It was reintroduced again in 1999, 2002, 2003. In 2004 it was included in the Common Minimum Program of the UPA government. All these years the Bill could not be passed because of lack of political consensus. It was again tabled in the Rajya Sabha in 2008, and has now been passed by the Rajya Sabha in 2010.

What is the objective of the Bill?

  • The Bill is aimed at fostering gender equality in Parliament, which in turn would lead to the empowerment of women as a whole. It is expected that increased political participation will help Indian women fight against the age old discrimination and deprivation they have been subjected to, and the inequality they suffer from. The Bill, it is felt, would create a level playing field for the women to enhance their presence and status in politics initially and in society eventually.

What are the apprehensions regarding the Bill?

  • Some political parties are apprehensive that the reservation for women would rob the chances of many of their male leaders to fight elections. Coupled with the reservation that already exists for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, a further reservation for women would be discriminatory for other sections of people. Others say that the reservation would benefit only elite women, causing further discrimination and under representation to the poor and backward classes. They are opposed to the bill in its present form and want a quota within quota for women from backward classes. It is also felt that rotation of seats being reserved may reduce the commitment of the elected MPs to their constituencies as their chances of getting reelected would be very little.

What is the status of the Bill now?

  • The Bill, which is also the Constitution (108thAmendment) Bill, was passed by the Rajya Sabha on 9th March 2010. It will now be tabled in Lok Sabha. Once approved by both houses, it will be sent for Presidential consent and then become a law, giving 33% reservation to women in Parliament and State Assemblies. The reservation will remain in place for 15 years and then be extended, if necessary.

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