The Supreme Court is slated to hear on January 22, the plea filed by Congress leader Jaya Thakur seeking immediate implementation of the Women Reservation Bill before the 2024 Lok Sabha polls. In November 2023, the Supreme Court had refused to issue notice in the matter and remarked that it will be “very difficult” to strike down the provision of the Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam Bill 2023 which provides that the 33 per cent quota for women in the legislature will not be implemented unless decennial census and subsequent delimitation exercise is carried out. The PIL had contended that there was no requirement of the census and delimitation because the number of seats is already declared and the present amendment gives 33 per cent reservation for existing seats.
The Union cabinet in September had approved the Women’s Reservation Bill which was originally introduced as the Constitution (Eighty First Amendment) Bill, 1996, in the Lok Sabha by the United Front Government with the objective to reserve 33 per cent seats in the Lok Sabha and all State Legislative Assemblies for women. The Bill also states that one-third of the seats reserved for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes will be reserved for women from those groups. These reserved seats may be allotted to different constituencies in the state or union territory by rotation. Additionally, the Bill clarifies that such reservation shall cease to exist 15 years after the commencement of this Amendment Act.
The quota for women is likely to be completely rolled out nation-wide in 2029 post completion of delimitation exercise and will continue for a term of 15 years. Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam Bill 2023 or the Women Reservation Bill does not intend to alter the composition of the present Lok Sabha or existing Legislative Assemblies but will apply once they are freshly constituted on completion of their respective tenure or on being dissolved for any other cause. The Bill being a constitutional amendment will not only require the special 2/3rd majority in both Houses of Parliament but will also be carried forward to the state Assemblies for ratification by at least half of them, which is a time-consuming process.
Another criticism of the Women’s Reservation Bill is the census and subsequent delimitation exercise that the BJP says must be carried out before the bill comes into effect. Such an exercise would see boundaries of territorial constituencies redrawn and seat allocations readjusted to correspond with population numbers to ensure balanced political representation. The exercise has been delayed until at least 2026 — or even later, depending on the timeline of the completed national census. Opposition parties have criticised the central government for linking the Women’s Reservation Bill to delimitation, as the combined census and delimitation processes may take years to implement. The final call as to when the women quota will be implemented now rests with the Supreme Court.