There was speculation that the Union cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on September 18 may clear anything from reservation for women, ‘one nation one election’ and even a change of name of the country. But only one thing was clear. The Women’s Reservation Bill was approved by the Modi cabinet. The decision comes a day after several parties including Congress demanded the passage of the mill in the all-party meeting held on September 17. The Congress has pitched for the passage of the bill during the five-day Special Session of Parliament from September 18 to 22. The previous Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government reintroduced the legislation, officially known as the Constitution (One Hundred and Eighth Amendment) Bill, in 2008. The legislation was passed by the Rajya Sabha in 2010, but it could not be passed in the Lok Sabha and it lapsed following its dissolution in 2014.
The Women’s Reservation Bill is likely to be tabled in the new parliament on September 19. The bill, if passed, would reserve one-third of all seats for women in the Lok Sabha and state legislative assemblies. Women MPs account for less than 15 per cent of Lok Sabha strength while their representation is below 10 per cent in many state assemblies, data shows. The bill was initially introduced in the parliament on September 12, 1996. Virtually or in spirit, all parties are in support of the bill yet no concrete action has been taken in the last 13 years to materialise the proposal. The last concrete development on the issue was in 2010 when Rajya Sabha passed the bill amid a ruckus with marshals escorting out some MPs who opposed the move to reserve 33 per cent seats for women in Lok Sabha and state assemblies, but the bill lapsed as it could not be passed by Lok Sabha.
In the past, some regional parties demanded quota for backward classes and Scheduled Castes within the overall reservation for women. This has been a key sticking point in the passage of the bill earlier. According to a write-up available on PRS Legislative, it also proposed quota-within-quota for SCs, STs and Anglo-Indians, while reserved seats were to be rotated after each general election. It meant that after a cycle of three elections, all constituencies would have been reserved once. The reservation was to be operational for 15 years. While it remains to be seen what percentage of reservation can be proposed in a new bill, the 2008 Bill proposed reserving one-third of all seats in Lok Sabha and legislative assemblies in each state for women. The passage of the bill after 27 years is a win-win game for all political parties.