Women quota Bill tabled in RS amid scuffle, drama
New Delhi, May 6
For the first time in its chequered history, the controversial Bill was introduced in the Upper House with the consequence that it would not lapse. It would be referred to the Standing Committee of Parliament.
Disruptions that included continuous raising of slogans against Maharashtra Navnirman Sena leader Raj Thackeray and attempts at snatching away of the Bill’s copy from the hands of the law minister, H.R. Bhardwaj, could not dissuade the government from going ahead and introducing the Constitution (108th amendment) Bill 2008 that was cleared by the Cabinet last night.
H.R. Bhardwaj introduced the Bill even as Samajwadi Party leader Abu Asim Azmi tried to snatch its copy from his hands. What followed were unprecedented dramatic scenes with woman and child development minister Renuka Choudhary and other Congress members pushing the SP member away from Bhardwaj to repulse his attempts.
As Congress MPs provided protective cover, the law minister introduced the Bill through a voice vote. Top leaders, including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Leader of Opposition Jaswant Singh, were witness to the high drama. Several Lok Sabha MPs were also there in the gallery.
The UPA, expecting trouble, had seated Bhardwaj in the middle row of Treasury Benches, flanked by two women ministers - Kumari Selja and Ambika Soni. And not just this, Congress MPs Jayanti Natarajan and Alka Balram Kshatriya were guarding Bhardwaj from SP members, who had taken the position in the Well as soon as the House met at noon.
Later talking to The Tribune, Renuka Choudhary termed the behaviour of SP members “shameful and condemnable”. Her sentiments were echoed by Najma Heptulla, who too called the behaviour of the SP members “shameful”. “It will not be a smooth sailing for the Bill... It can never be a smooth sailing for women anywhere in the world. But we will not be intimidated at any cost. The Bill will definitely be passed,” Renuka added.
The stance adopted by the SP members as soon as the House met for the day was an indication for the events to follow. The SP members started protesting during the Question Hour, demanding the arrest of Raj Thackeray for his anti-Indian remarks. This led to the adjournment of the House till noon.
As soon as the House resumed at noon, the SP members stormed into the well in an apparent attempt to stall the introduction of the Bill, which they had been opposing along with the JD (U). In spite of the din, P.J. Kurien, who was in the Chair, asked ministers and members to lay the papers listed against their names.
However, all hell broke loose after the completion of the process as Kurien called the law minister to introduce the Bill. Choudhary and a few more ministers got up and tried to create a protective wall around the law minister, but the SP members, especially Azmi, was successful in reaching up to the minister and a scuffle followed between SP and UPA members.
Azmi, who was in the well protesting against the anti-north Indian remarks by Thackeray, tried to snatch the copy of the Bill from his hand. They were supported by the JD (U) members, who were on their feet. As soon as the government managed to introduce the Bill, the Chair adjourned the House till 2 pm.
The Bill provides for reservation of one-third of seats for women in Parliament and state legislatures. Different governments since 1996 have tried to get the Bill passed without success. Though it was one of the main promises in the common minimum programme of the UPA government, the Manmohan Singh government could not secure political consensus among UPA partners, especially the RJD.
While the BJP and the Left favoured the measure aimed at women’s empowerment. The main objection from the SP, the JD (U) as also the RJD related to their demand for quota within quota. As soon as the House reassembled at 2 pm, JD (U) leader Sharad Yadav started protesting against the introduction of the Bill through the “back door”.
Chairman Hamid Ansari disallowed him to speak saying the time for discussion on the subject had elapsed and the member had lost his chance to speak.
Yadav was joined by SP members led by Amar Singh, who also protested against the way in which the Bill was introduced in the Rajya Sabha. The drama continued for eight minutes and the chairman’s repeated pleas to allow the proceedings to continue were not heeded. “The 213th session, which commenced on February 25, 2008,...” the chairman said, not being able to complete the sentence amid noise. He later called for the national song to be played and adjourned the House sine die.
If it is approved then the political party should be given the freedom to decide on quota,” he said.
12 yrs on, women’s quota Bill still limping
New Delhi, May 6
Rooted in the success of 33 per cent reservation for women in the Panchayati Raj Institutions, the Bill was first drafted in 1996, when H.D. Deve Gowda was the Prime Minister in the United Front government.
It proposed 33.3 per cent reservation for women in Parliament and the state legislatures and was tabled in the Lok Sabha on September 12, 1996, by the then law minister Ramakant D. Khalap.
Right from start, Lalu Prasad Yadav of the RJD and Mulayam Singh Yadav of the SP emerged as principal opponents of the legislation. While Lalu said the quota would benefit the elite, Mulayam opposed the idea of quota within quota, so did the BSP.
No wonder the Bill was defeated. It was modified when I.K. Gujral was the Prime Minister to include provisions so that seats would be rotated in a manner, where a different set would be under reservation in each election.
The Bill, however, remained stalled and was, during the NDA’s regime, referred to a Joint Parliamentary Committee headed by the then Lok Sabha MP Geeta Mukherjee. On June 26, 1998, the Bill was again introduced in the 12th Lok Sabha as the 84th Constitution amendment. It remained mired in controversy despite being modified as per JPC’s recommendations.
The Bill was today presented in the House for the fourth time, with the RJD, the SP and the BSP again opposing it. While the women activists feel the Bill is their right as it seeks to reserve only 33 per cent of the seats for tehm whereas they say 33 per cent reservation for them help the elite to gain political power and harm the interests of poor sections, which would remain underrepresented.
Lalu has been saying the bill would deny proper representation to backward sections; he is for 10 to 15 per cent reservation for women and for the political party to have the freedom to decide on quota. Mulayam has earlier talked about giving 10 per cent of election tickets to women, but has been adding: “If representation is the only concern, why not have reservations for Muslim women? Moreover, if 33.3 per cent reservation for women is added to the existing 22.5 per cent for SCs and STs, over 55 per cent seats in Parliament would be reserved. This would be unfair to other sections.”
Women’s groups, however, rue under representation in Parliament. “For us, the battle is half won. We aim to put continuous pressure on the government in coming months and check negative forces to ensure smooth passage of the Bill,” Ranjana Kumari from Centre for Social Research said today.
Women groups across the country hailed the Bill’s introduction referring to the May 2004 general election when 539 candidates were elected to the 14th Lok Sabha; only 44 being women. This had earlier prompted the women groups to raise the issue with the election commission, which then proposed that reservation for women in the Assemblies and Parliament should be mandated for the political parties. The proposal was met with resistance.
As for the Bill, it appears necessary considering women’s representation in legislatures in India is just 8.3 per cent against the Asian average of 16.5 per cent and the world average of 17.1 per cent. Even the Global Gender Gap Report 2007 of UNDP had placed India at a disappointing rank 114 out of 128 countries studied, based on indicators, among others, of political participation.