New Delhi, September 20
The Lok Sabha on Wednesday passed a bill granting reservation to women on one-third seats in Lok Sabha and state assemblies with near unanimity amid demands from the opposition to extend similar benefits to Other Backward Classes and immediate implementation of the measure before the elections next year.
After a spirited eight-hour debate in which 60 members participated, the Lok Sabha passed the Constitution (128th Amendment) Bill, with 454 members voting in favour and two against it.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi was present during the voting on the bill.
The bill was passed as per the provisions of Article 368 (2) of the Constitution relating to the passage of constitutional amendment bills which requires support of the majority of the total membership of the House and a majority of not less than two-thirds of the members present and voting.
A few amendments moved by the government relating to the numbering of the Constitution amendment bill were also cleared by the House. When the proposed legislation goes to Rajya Sabha for its consideration, it will be called the Constitution (106th Amendment) Bill, officials said.
Setting the tone of the debate, former Congress president Sonia Gandhi made a strong pitch for bringing OBC women in the ambit of the proposed law and asserting that any delay in bringing the reservation into effect would be “gross injustice” to women.
Intervening in the debate, Home Minister Amit Shah brushed aside apprehensions of a delay in the implementation of the proposed law and asserted that the next government will conduct a census and delimitation exercise soon after the elections, setting in motion the process to make women’s reservation a reality.
Shah indicated that women’s reservation will become a reality after 2029.
The home minister pushed back against the opposition’s criticism for not including an OBC sub-quota and asserted that the BJP has given more representation to the community than those claiming to speak for them.
Nearly 29 per cent or 85 BJP MPs, 29 Union ministers, and 365 of its 1,358 MLAs, which is over 27 per cent, are from the OBC category, Shah said. He said over 40 per cent of its MLCs also belong to the Other Backward Classes (OBCs).
The debate also saw rival political parties claim credit for women’s reservation, with Gandhi saying that the bill was a dream of her late husband and former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, who made attempts to grant reservation to women in local bodies in 1989 but failed, and BJP members asserting that former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee brought the bill twice only to be met with unruly scenes in the House.
The bill was brought in 2008 during the coalition government led by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and passed by the Rajya Sabha, where it was introduced, in 2010. However, the bill could not be passed in the Lok Sabha due to political differences. It subsequently lapsed with dissolution of the 15th Lok Sabha.
AIMIM leader Asaduddin Owaisi was the lone voice of opposition to the bill contending that the measure would provide reservation only to “savarna women”, and exclude OBC and Muslim women who have little representation in Parliament.
The AIMIM has two members in Lok Sabha.
On the issue of immediate implementation of the proposed law, Shah said such a move would lead to allegations of partiality and insisted that the matter be best left to the delimitation commission which would carry out the exercise in a transparent manner.
“If we do it and Wayanad becomes reserved you will say it is a political step. If Hyderabad becomes a reserved seat, Owaisi ji will say it is politically motivated,” the home minister said. Wayanad in Kerala is represented in Lok Sabha by Congress leader Rahul Gandhi.
Shah said the delimitation commission was an appropriate forum for demarcation of constituencies reserved for women as it is chaired by a retired Supreme Court judge and has representation from political parties.
Several members had demanded immediate rollout of women’s reservation and criticised the provisions that said that the quotas will come into effect after the delimitation exercise undertaken after the first census after the commencement of the proposed law.
Speaking on the bill, Trinamool Congress MP Mahua Moitra said, “Women’s reservation is dependent on two totally indeterminate dates, can there be a greater jumla? Forget 2024, this may not be possible in 2029.”
Former Congress chief Sonia Gandhi said, “For the last 13 years, Indian women have been waiting for their political responsibilities, and now they are being asked to wait for a few more years—two years, four years, six years, eight years.”
Several opposition leaders said that the women’s reservation bill was a panic reaction of the government after the formation of the opposition group INDIA.
“We support the bill. We want to empower all women. But this is nothing but a ‘jumla’. This is nothing but a panic reaction (of the ruling dispensation) to the formation of the opposition group INDIA.... This government has no intention of empowering women. Their only intention is to capture power,” Janata Dal (United) leader Rajiv Ranjan Singh said.
NCP member Supriya Sule termed the legislation a “post-dated cheque” and demanded the government spell out the date and timeline for its implementation.
Akali Dal member Harsimrat Badal also targeted the BJP over its leaders being booked for crimes against women.
“Women wrestlers, who brought so many medals, have been sitting for months but the Bahubali is still sitting here,” she said, referring to former Wrestling Federation of India president and Lok Sabha member Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, who has been accused of sexual harassment by several women wrestlers. Singh has denied the charges.
Bahujan Samaj Party member Sangeeta Azad, Bharat Rashtra Samithi leader Nama Nageswara Rao and Shiv Sena member Bhavana Gawali wholeheartedly supported the bill.
Twenty-seven women members cutting across party lines participated in the debate on the bill, with BJP legislators coming out in support of it and the opposition members demanding its immediate implementation.
At present, there are 82 women members in Lok Sabha, out of the total strength of 543. PTI
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