19 Sep 2023 10:38 AM GMT
Since the announcement of a special session of Parliament last month, the air has been rife with speculation over a big-ticket surprise sprung by the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government. And it is here. After the union cabinet’s approval yesterday, on the second day of the special session Law Minister Arjun Ram Meghwal introduced the Constitution (One Hundred and Twenty-Eighth...
Since the announcement of a special session of Parliament last month, the air has been rife with speculation over a big-ticket surprise sprung by the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government. And it is here. After the union cabinet’s approval yesterday, on the second day of the special session Law Minister Arjun Ram Meghwal introduced the Constitution (One Hundred and Twenty-Eighth Amendment) Bill, 2023, which proposes to reserve for women one-third of all seats in the Lok Sabha, the state legislatures, and the Delhi legislative assembly.
This bill is in many ways similar to an earlier bill that was introduced in 2008 by the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, such as a sunset clause pledging that the policy would come to an end after 15 years from its commencement. The legislation proposed earlier, despite passing the upper house in 2010, never became law owing to the lack of political consensus and the subsequent dissolution of the 15th Lok Sabha. In over a decade, the promise of women’s reservation was left unrealised, even though various political parties threw their lot in with the cause at different points in time. Now, amid a revival of the debate and mounting calls, a new bill has been tabled in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday, which seeks to introduce an affirmative action policy in the union and state legislatures that already forms a crucial component of grassroots governance, in Panchayati Raj institutions (PRI) and Municipalities.
Under these circumstances, many may wonder what repercussions the passage of this bill will have on the General Elections next year, and whether the upcoming polls will see an enhancement in terms of gender diversity. According to the union parliamentary affairs ministry, there are currently 78 women in the Lok Sabha, out of a total strength of 542; 24 women in the Rajya Sabha out of 224 members; and only six women ministers. Gender diversity in state legislatures varies from state to state, although it is largely dismal. Nagaland for instance got its first and second women legislative members earlier this year, in March. The north-eastern state has had only two women parliamentarians in history – in 1977, and again after 45 years, in 2022.
But what happens now? Notwithstanding the prime minister and the central government affirming their commitment to ‘women-led development’, it may be a while before we see the proposed constitutional amendment in practice, even if it were to pass both houses and receive the presidential assent. The reason for this is that in its current form, the women’s reservation bill is proposed to be enforced only after an exercise of delimitation is undertaken following the first census conducted after its enactment. This is a key difference between the 2008 and 2023 bills.
This deferment of women reservation is proposed as per clause 5 of the Bill, which reads as :
“Notwithstanding anything in the foregoing provision of this Part or Part VIII, the provisions of the Constitution relating to the reservation of seats for women in the House of the People, the Legislative Assembly of a State and the Legislative Assembly of the National Capital Territory of Delhi shall come into effect after an exercise of delimitation is undertaken for this purpose after the relevant figures for the first census taken after commencement of the Constitution (One Hundred and Twenty-eighth Amendment) Act, 2023 have been published and shall cease to have effect on the expiration of a period of fifteen years from such commencement”
There is no gainsaying, therefore, that the constitutional amendment that has now been proposed will have no effect on the 2024 Lok Sabha elections or the representation of women among the new cohort of representatives the country elects, since it is not only unlikely but also impossible for a census to be conducted followed by a nation-wide delimitation exercise between now and April next year.
Also Read - Read What Supreme Court Told Centre About Women’s Reservation Bill One Month Ago