The Union government tabled the much-awaited Women's Reservation Bill in Lok Sabha on September 19 as the first bill in the new Parliament building. In a span of just three days, it was passed by both the houses of the Parliament with the support of the Opposition. Though political reservation for women has been a part of parliamentary debates for a long time, this is the first time the bill held the potential of becoming a law through political consensus.
Onmanorama takes a look at the Women's Reservation Bill, its history and provisions.
What is the Women's Reservation Bill?
The bill paves the way for a 33 per cent reservation to women in Lok Sabha and state assemblies. The bill has proposed that the reservation will continue for a period of 15 years. Seats reserved for women will be rotated after each subsequent delimitation exercise, according to the bill.
The quota will however, not apply to Rajya Sabha or state Legislative Councils. Within the quota, a third of the seats will be for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. It does not include OBC reservation.
The 15-year limitation is set with the expectation that after a decade-and-half, women's participation will increase so much that the country would not need a special quota to prop up the numbers.
Why does it involve a constitution amendment?
The bill requires the consent of the states as it affects their rights.
It was listed for introduction in the Lower House as the Constitution (One Hundred and Twenty Eighth Amendment) Bill, 2023.
According to provisions of Article 368, the Constitution amendment bill will require ratification by at least 50 per cent of the states.
When will it be implemented?
With the BJP enjoying a strong majority in Lok Sabha and many unaligned parties, including the BJD, BRS and the YSR Congress, now supporting the women's reservation, the Modi government was better placed than previous dispensations to have the 'Narishakti Vandan Adhiniyam' passed. (Unlike in its earlier avatars, the bill is now titled in Hindi. The move comes close on the heels of NDA changing names of amended IPC and CrPC to 'Bharatiy Dand Samhita' and 'Dand Prakriya Samhita', respectively.)
However, the bill is unlikely to be in force for the next Lok Sabha elections in 2024 as the reservation will come into effect only after a delimitation exercise and the decadal census is completed.
According to the Opposition, it will be effective at the earliest by the 2029 Lok Sabha polls as the 2021 Census is still pending.
History of women's reservation in India
Though political representation for women was discussed in independent India, it gained momentum in 1988 when the National Perspective Plan for Women recommended reservations for women at all levels of governance.
The 73rd and 74th Amendment Acts were introduced as a result, mandating the reservation of one-third of seats for women in Panchayati Raj institutions and offices of the chairperson at all levels of Panchayati Raj institutions, and in urban local bodies respectively. Though Rajiv Gandhi attempted to make it law in 1989, he failed. They were finally enacted in 1993 when P V Narasimha Rao was Prime Minister.
In 2010, Kerala went a step further and implemented a 50 per cent reservation for women in local self-governance through the Panchayati Raj. Other states like Bihar, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh have also implemented a 50 per cent reservation for women in the local bodies.
The Women's Reservation Bill which suggested a reservation for women in the parliament and legislatures was first introduced in Parliament by the H D Deve Gowda goverment in 1996. But the bill faced much opposition within the 15-party coalition and outside.
The BJP-led NDA under Atal Behari Vajpayee also attempted to pass the Women's Reservation Bill in 1998, 1999, 2000, 2002 and 2003 but failed due to the lack of political consensus. In 2004 and 2008, the Congress-led UPA under Manmohan Singh attempted to reintroduce the bill unsuccessfully. The furthest the bill progressed was in 2010, when it passed in the Rajya Sabha. However, it lapsed without making it past the 15th Lok Sabha.
Why are some against the bill?
While some are against the bill due to the lesser number of options available to male candidates, rights activists have cautioned against any quota becoming a token exercise. They said there should be provisions to encourage those from non-political background contest polls rather than those picked by male members of politically affluent families.
There is also a demand for OBC reservation in the bill.
A glimpse at the current status
Data shows that women MPs account for nearly 15 per cent of Lok Sabha strength while their representation is below 10 per cent in many state assemblies.
As per the data from ECI, out of the total 4,896 MPs/MLAs across the country, only 418, or 9 per cent, are women.
Among MPs, Lok Sabha has 11 per cent (59 of 543 MPs) and Rajya Sabha has 10 per cent (23 of 233 MPs) women MPs. With just one woman representative among 20 Lok Sabha MPs, the corresponding percentage is 5 per cent in Kerala.
Among State assemblies, West Bengal 34 (out of 294 MLAs), Bihar 34 (out of 243 MLAs) and
Andhra Pradesh 34 (out of 294 MLAs) have the maximum number of women MLAs followed by Uttar Pradesh (32 women out of 403 MLAs) and Rajasthan (28 women out of 200 MLAs).
In terms of percentage, among state assemblies, the highest percentage of women MLAs is from Bihar with 14 per cent followed by Rajasthan with 14 per cent and West Bengal with 12 per cent. In Karnataka, the State that elected a new government, just 4 per cent of the new MLAs are women.
Himachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Puducherry, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Meghalaya, Tamil Nadu, and Telangana have less than 5 per cent MLAs as women.
What happens in Kerala?
1. Changes in Assembly
The women’s representation in the Kerala Legislative Assembly would rise by nearly four times in the event of the Parliament passing the Women’s Reservation Bill. Forty-six to 47 women legislators would represent different constituencies in the 140-member assembly.
Upon implementing the reservation in 124 general seats to the state assembly, 41 women will get the opportunity to become legislators. Five women from 14 constituencies reserved for Schedule Castes will also reach the assembly. Over three elections, two women from Scheduled Tribes in Sultan Bathery and Mananthavady constituencies will join the assembly.
Currently, Kerala's women legislators are C K Asha, Daleema Jojo, J Chinchurani, Kanathil Jameela, K K Shailaja, O S Ambika, R Bindu, K Santhakumari, U Prathibha, and Veena George. K K Rama and Uma Thomas represent the UDF side.
2. Changes in Parliament
Six Lok Sabha seats out of the total 20 from the state will also be reserved for women. Of the 20 Lok Sabha seats in the state, 19 are represented by men. Ramya Haridas, who won from Alathur, is the sole woman MP.
Out of 18 general seats from the state to Lok Sabha, six will be reserved for women. Additionally, two women will also get elected to the House of the People from the seats reserved for women over a period when six elections are held. This means seven seats will be reserved for women twice in 30 years from the state to Lok Sabha.
Only 52 women have become the people’s representatives in the history of the Kerala assembly. Dr Mary Poonen Lukose, who was nominated to the legislative council of Travancore, then known as Sree Chitra State Council, was the first women legislator in India. Interestingly, the state has more women voters than males for decades altogether. Out of the total 2.67 voters, women comprise 1.38 crore and men 1.29 crore.