11 Aug 2023 2:11 PM GMT
The Supreme Court on Friday questioned why the Centre had not filed a response to a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by the National Federation of Indian Women (NFIW) seeking a reintroduction of the Women’s Reservation Bill in the Lok Sabha. More formally known as the Constitution (One Hundred and Eighth Amendment) Bill, 2008, this proposed amendment seeks to introduce 33 per...
The Supreme Court on Friday questioned why the Centre had not filed a response to a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by the National Federation of Indian Women (NFIW) seeking a reintroduction of the Women’s Reservation Bill in the Lok Sabha. More formally known as the Constitution (One Hundred and Eighth Amendment) Bill, 2008, this proposed amendment seeks to introduce 33 per cent reservation for women in the Lok Sabha and state assemblies. Despite this bill being passed by the Rajya Sabha in 2010, it has not yet been tabled before the Lok Sabha yet.
The bench hearing NFIW’s plea today comprised Justices Sanjiv Khanna and SVN Bhatti. Right at the outset, the bench shot a question at the government law officer. “You have not filed a reply. Why are you shying away?” Justice Khanna asked Additional Solicitor-General KM Nataraj, inquiring about the Centre’s reluctance to file a response. The central government was given time since November of last year to submit its counter-affidavit.
ASG KM Nataraj began, “They have to table this, and a mandamus to table…”
That is separate, Justice Khanna said. “Why have you not filed a reply? Say you want to implement it, or not. It’s too important an issue to thrown on the backburner. It’s too important. It concerns all of us.”
The judge also expressed his surprise at the reluctance of political parties to come forward to ‘take a stand’ in response to the PIL. “I am surprised no one has come forward to take a stand,” Justice Khanna said.
Advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for NFIW, pointed out that most political parties included the introduction of reservation for women in the Parliament and state assemblies in their manifestos.
“I am interested to know what political parties will say. None of them have come forward, except the Communist Party of India,” Justice Khanna said. He added, “We will have to take this up on a non-miscellaneous day on which we may pass an order. Obviously, there are certain restrictions on us that we cannot exceed. But nevertheless…”
To ASG Nataraj, Justice Khanna said once again, “You should have filed a reply.”
The law officer attempted to defend the central government. “We thought that the same restriction applies to us.”
After this brief exchange, the bench adjourned the hearing till October.
In 2021, the National Federation of Indian Women approached the Supreme Court with a prayer for the reintroduction of the Constitution (One Hundred and Eighth Amendment) Bill, 2008 – also referred to as the ‘Women’s Reservation Bill’ – which sought to reserve one-third of all seats for women in the Lok Sabha and the state assemblies.
Even though the first women’s reservation bill was introduced more than 25 years ago, the policy of 33 percent quota for women is still far from implemented. The petitioner pointed out that although the proposed amendment once passed by the Rajya Sabha in 2010, it lapsed after the dissolution of the Lok Sabha and was not placed before the lower house of the Parliament again.
“The non-introduction of the Bill is arbitrary, illegal and is leading to discrimination. The Bill was passed by the Rajya Sabha in 2010 and has been crystallised so as to its aims and objectives to a large extent. In view thereof it is submitted that non-introduction of such an important and beneficial Bill, on which there is a virtual consensus of all major political parties, is arbitrary.”
Although women constitute almost half of the population of India, their representation in the legislature remains dismal, making it necessary to have ‘vigorous’ affirmative action policies in place, the petitioner has said. Citing the example of reservation for women in panchayats, the petition has stated:
“The empowerment of women through the bill, will lead to the overall development of the country, particularly the women and will also aid in dealing with the socio-economic as well as political inequality that are both intertwined…Given the systematic de-recognition of women’s work in the socio-economic realm, their deliberate exclusion from political participation is unacceptable and a violation of their democratic and constitutional rights.”
The bill and its objectives, the petitioner has stated, enjoys support from all political parties and the manifestoes of these parties include the promise of passing the Women’s Reservation Bill. The government cannot be allowed to keep a bill, which has been passed by the Rajya Sabha and enjoys the support of a majority of mainstream political parties, hanging indefinitely on the pretext of further consideration and the need for consensus between political parties, the petitioner has stated.
In November of last year, a bench headed by Justice Sanjiv Khanna issued notice on this petition, noting that it raised an issue of ‘considerable importance’. The court asked the Centre to file its response within a period of six weeks and granted a further time of three weeks to NFIW to file its rejoinder affidavit, before adjourning the hearing till March 2023. On the next date of hearing, the bench had to grant another adjournment on the behest of the central government, which sought more time to file a counter-affidavit.
National Federation of Indian Women v. Union of India & Ors. | Writ Petition (Civil) No. 1158 of 2021