What it is and the political hold-up against it

Trinamool Congress Party (TMC) Rajya Sabha MP Derek O’Brien on Monday said that he has given notice to move a motion for the introduction of the Women’s Reservation Bill in the upper house

Women's Reservation Bill in Rajya Sabha: What it is and the political hold-up against it

Representational image. PTI

Trinamool Congress Party {TMC} Rajya Sabha MP Derek O’Brien on Monday said that he has given notice to move a motion for the introduction of the Women’s Reservation Bill in the upper house.

He said that the notice has been given for motion under Rule 169 to introduce the bill.

Rule 168 allows members to raise issues of public interest.

Sharing percentage-wise details of women MPs of all major parties, he said the TMC has a maximum 37 per cent of women MPs, while the BJP has only 13 per cent.

Let’s take a look at the long-pending Women’s Reservation Bill, its brief history and what it aims to achieve:

What is the Women’s Reservation Bill: A brief history

First introduced in 1996 by the United Front government led by Deve Gowda in the Lok Sabha, the Women’s Reservation Bill seeks to reserve one-third seats in the Lok Sabha and state assemblies for women.

As per a report by India Today, the idea for this reservation bill came from a constitutional amendment which was passed in 1993.

Even though it was at a smaller level, the constitutional amendment stated a random one third of village council leader, or Sarpanch, positions in the gram panchayat should be reserved for women.

By introducing the Women’s Reservation Bill in the House, the Deve Gowda government aimed to extend this reservation to Lok Sabha and state legislative assemblies.

Thereafter the bill was introduced three times in 1988, 1999, and 2008.

In 2008, it was introduced in the Rajya Sabha and after scrutiny by the standing committee, it was passed by the Upper House in 2010 and sent to the Lok Sabha.

After its reintroduction, the bill was passed by Rajya Sabha on 9 March, 2010, but was still left pending in Lok Sabha.

All four bills lapse with the dissolution of those governments.

Where does India stand in having elected women representatives?

According to Al Jazeera, globally, India ranks 148th in a list of 193 countries based on the percentage of elected women representatives in their national parliaments, as of June last year.

The same data shows that while the global average for “lower chamber or unicameral” is 25.8 per cent, India stands at 14.4 per cent with 78 out of 543 Lok Sabha representatives elected in 2019 being women, the highest number to date.

India’s parliament is bicameral and female members make up 11.6 percent of the upper house or Rajya Sabha.

If the 33 per cent reservation is enacted in the Lok Sabha, it would ensure at least 179 female members in the Lower House of Parliament.

In the first Lok Sabha formed in 1952, there were 24 women, the number has reached 81 in the current Lok Sabha, out of which 48 women are first-time Members of Parliament.

What’s the political hiccup?

Even though most of the national political parties have supported the bill over the years, some resistance from within has held it from being passed.

As per the Al Jazeera report, in 2010, Rajya Sabha passed a constitutional amendment bill saying that the reservation would cease to exist 15 years after it is implemented.

To be enacted, the bill needed to be passed by the Lok Sabha and ratified by half of the legislative assemblies.

However, it lapsed four years later due to a lack of political consensus.

Political parties like the Congress and BJP have included the issue of Women’s Reservation Bill in their election manifestos, however, nothing of substance has come out of it.

For the good part, there are at least 20 Indian states that have implemented 50 per cent representation of women at the panchayat or village council level.

As per the Al Jazeera report, which cites a 2010 study, female representation on village councils increased female participation and responsiveness to concerns such as drinking water, infrastructure, sanitation and roads, without crowding out other disadvantaged groups.

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