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The Women’s Reservation Bill, A Contentious Legislation Since Its Introduction

The Women’s Reservation Bill, A Contentious Legislation Since Its Introduction
(Source- Official Twitter account of Lok Sabha TV)

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The Women’s Reservation Bill, A Contentious Legislation Since Its Introduction

The concept of a bill reserving seats for women at the central and state level dates back to 1996.

Congress President Rahul Gandhi took to Twitter on Monday to offer his party’s unconditional support in the Lok Sabha to the Women’s Reservation Bill.

In a letter addressed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, he requested that the ruling alliance extend its support to the bill in order to ensure it is raised and passed in the monsoon session of the Indian Parliament that begins on Wednesday

He also claimed that the Congress had gathered 3.2 million signatures from individuals across the country in support of the bill.

Responding to Rahul Gandhi’s letter, senior BJP member and Union Minister of HRD Prakash Javadekar accused the Congress of having alliances with parties that do not support the bill. He questioned whether they would be willing to break away from these alliances, or can guarantee letters of support for the legislation from them.

The Women’s Reservation Bill 2008, also known as the Constitution (108th Amendment) Bill, has been a contentious legislation since its introduction. It seeks to reserve one-third seats in the central and state assemblies for women, on a rotational basis.

History Of Women’s Reservation In India

Reservations for women in local governments were put in place in 1992, by the 73rd Constitutional Amendment which established the system of Panchayati Raj. This amendment reserves one-third of all seats, including a proportional number of seats reserved for Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs), in local assemblies for women. 

The 74th Constitutional Amendment extended this provision to urban local bodies, such as municipal corporations.

In 2016, India’s Minister for Rural Development and Panchayati Raj Birender Singh was quoted as saying that a proposed legislation will seek to increase reservation for women in local bodies to 50 per cent.

Implementing this provision for central and state assemblies has proved to be more difficult. The current 16th Lok Sabha has 62 female members out of 543, making the approximate percentage of women in the Lok Sabha a mere 11%.

Precedent shows that a quota-based move can work to remedy this skewed sex ratio, as seen in countries such as Bangladesh, Tanzania, and Argentina, which have their own version of such reservations.

The concept of a bill reserving seats for women at the central and state level dates back to 1996, when H D Deve Gowda’s government was in power. Dismissed by the House, it was reintroduced in 1998 by then-Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and subsequently in 1999, 2002, and 2003 as well. However, it did not yield any results.

Women’s Reservation Bill 2008: Supporters And Critics

The Women’s Reservation Bill 2008 managed to cut across party lines to gather support, with the Congress, the BJP, and the Left all in favour. At the same time, passed by the Rajya Sabha in 2010, but once again not being voted upon and lapsing in 2014 in the Lok Sabha, it also had its vocal critics.

Opposition to the Bill famously came from the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), the Janata Dal (United), and Samajwadi Party (SP). Interestingly, the JD(U) appears to have drastically altered its stance, as seen in 2016 when the party’s general secretary K C Tyagi came forward and pledged its unconditional support for the bill.

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