Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam 2023
The first bill, Women's Reservation Bill, has been presented by the Central Government in the new Parliament House on 19 September 2023. In the lower house of the Parliament, Law Minister Arjun Ram Meghwal presented this bill to provide 33 percent reservation to women in the Lok Sabha and state assemblies.
The Government of India has introduced a bill to reserve one-third seats for women in Parliament and Legislative Assemblies. The bill giving reservation to women in the Lok Sabha was named 'Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam 2023'.
Women's Reservation Bill named 'Nari Shakti Vandan A' has been passed by the Parliament. The 128th Amendment to the Indian Constitution is set to expand women's participation in politics and policymaking at the state and national levels. This will certainly create the conditions for more women to lead. This will redefine the nature of political action. This addition would make politics more truly representative.
Women Reservation Bill in India - Features, Importance, Debate
Recently, the Lok Sabha (LS) and Rajya Sabha (RS), both passed Women's Reservation Bill 2023 (128th Constitutional Amendment Bill) or Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam.
The bill reserves one-third of the seats in Lok Sabha, State legislative assemblies and the Delhi assembly. This will also apply to the seats reserved for SCs (Scheduled Castes) and STs (Scheduled Tribes) in Lok Sabha and State Legislatures.
What is the Background and Need for this Bill?
The discussion upon the reservation of women reservation bill is prevalent since the tenure of Former Prime Minister Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 1996.
As the then Government lacked a majority, the Bill could not have been approve
Earlier Attempts at Reserving Seats for Women:
1996: First Women Reservation Bill was introduced in the Parliament.
1998 – 2003: Government tabled the Bill on 4 occasions but failed.
2009: Government tables the bill amid protests.
2010: The Union Cabinet passes the Bill and RS passes it.
2014: The Bill was expected to be tabled in LS.
There are 82 women Member of Parliaments in LS (15.2%) and 31 women in RS(13%).
While the number has increased significantly since the 1st Lok Sabha (5%) but is still far lower than in many countries.
According to recent UN Women data, Rwanda (61%), Cuba (53%), Nicaragua (52%) are the top three countries in women representation. Bangladesh (21%) and Pakistan (20%) as well are ahead of India in case of female representation.
What are the Key Features of the Bill?
Reservation for Women in Lower House:
The Bill provided for inserting Article 330A to the constitution, which borrows from the provisions of Article 330, which provides for reservation of seats to SCs/STs in the Lok Sabha.
The Bill provided that reserved seats for women may be allotted by rotation to different constituencies in states or Union Territories.
In the seats reserved for SCs/STs, the Bill sought to provide one-third of the seats to be reserved for women on rotational basis.
Reservation for Women in State Legislative Assemblies:
The Bill introduces Article 332A, which mandates the reservation of seats for women in every state Legislative Assembly. Additionally, one-third of the seats reserved for SCs and STs must be allocated for women, and one-third of the total seats filled through direct elections to the Legislative Assemblies shall also be reserved for women.
Reservation for Women in NCT of Delhi ( New clause in 239AA):
Article 239AA to the constitution grants special status to the Union Territory of Delhi as national capital with regards to its administrative and legislative functioning.
Article 239AA(2)(b) was amended by the bill accordingly to add that the laws framed by parliament shall apply to the National Capital territory of Delhi.
Commencement of Reservation (New article - 334A):
The reservation will be effective after the census conducted after the commencement of this Bill has been published. Based on the census, delimitation will be undertaken to reserve seats for women.
The reservation will be provided for a period of 15 years. However, it shall continue till such date as determined by a law made by Parliament.
Rotation of Seats:
Seats reserved for women will be rotated after each delimitation, as determined by a law made by Parliament.
What are the Arguments Against the Bill?
The Bill merely reads that it shall come into effect “after an exercise of delimitation is undertaken for this purpose after the relevant figures for the first Census taken after commencement of the Bill is undertaken. It doesn’t specify the cycle of elections from which women will get their due share.
The current Bill does not provide women’s reservation in the Rajya Sabha and State Legislative Councils. The Rajya Sabha currently has lower representation of women than the Lok Sabha. Representation is an ideal that must be reflected in both the Lower and Upper Houses.
Note: - The Bill also borrowed from the provisions of Article 334 of the constitution which mandated the parliament to review the provisions of reservation after 70 years of the laws coming into existence. But in the case of the Women's reservation Bill, the Bill provided for the sunset clause of 15 years for the reservation provisions for the women to get reviewed by the parliament.
Women visitors at the Parliament House on the day of debate on women’s reservation Bill in the Lok Sabha on September 20, 2023.
Twenty-seven years after the women’s reservation Bill was first introduced in Parliament, the Lok Sabha on September 20 passed a Bill with near unanimity to amend the Constitution and provide one-third reservation to women in the Lok Sabha and State Assemblies.
The Bill will now be taken by the Rajya Sabha for passage in the remaining two days of the Special Session of Parliament, and might require approval from half of the States.
With 454 members of the Lok Sabha supporting the Constitution (One Hundred and Twenty Eighth) Bill 2023, the constitutional requirement of “two-third majority of the members present and voting” was easily met.
Women’s Reservation Bill has been tabled in Lok Sabha as the Constitution (One Hundred and Twenty-Eighth Amendment) Bill. In the Lok Sabha and State Legislative Assemblies, women would receive 33% of the seats under the introduced legislation.
Articles to be amended: To achieve the goal of women’s reservation, the Bill proposed Amendments to the Constitutional provisions with respect to the NCT of Delhi
Article 239AA (Special provisions with respect to Delhi),
New Articles to be inserted: The Women’s Reservation Bill also introduced three new articles, namely Articles 330A, 332A, and 334A.
The Articles 330A and 332A newly proposed articles want to establish women's reservation in the Lok Sabha and state legislative assemblies.
Article 334a included a sunset provision that would gradually end this affirmative action policy after 15 years.
Horizontal women’s reservation: It is noteworthy that the bill included provisions for horizontal reservation that cut across different quota categories.
Particularly, women from the Scheduled Caste (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes(STs) are proposed to have one-third of the seats allocated for SCs and STs in the Lok Sabha and legislative assemblies.
Rotation of seats: The designated seats for female lawmakers may be distributed by rotation to various constituencies within a state or union territory.
Majority required: The Women Reservation Bill would require a special majority of the Parliament and ratification by half of the states. That is a two-thirds majority in both the Houses of Parliament and the approval from at least 50% of states.
Earliest implementation: However, the earliest moment when one-third of the seats in the Lok Sabha is likely to be occupied by women in 2029
This is because the Bill says that the “provisions relating to the reservation of seats for women shall come into effect after an exercise of delimitation is undertaken for this purpose after the relevant figures for the first census taken after (the Bill is passed) have been published.”
This provision of the fresh census and delimitation exercise was not part of the Women’s Reservation Bill passed by the Rajya Sabha in 2010.
Other Constitutional Amendments Needed to Operationalise the Scheme of Women Reservation
Article 82 and Article 170(3) of the Constitution would need to be changed in order to implement delimitation, which is a requirement for the implementation of reservations.
Women’s Reservation in Panchayats
Article 243D of the Constitution has a provision for the reservation of seats for SCs, STs, and women in Panchayats.
History of Women Reservation Bill
The Women's Reservation Bill had been introduced in Parliament several times but had not yet been passed into law. Political debates and delays have hindered its progress.
The first iteration of the Women's Reservation Bill was presented to the Lok Sabha as the 81st Amendment Bill in September 1996 by the United Front government headed by then-Prime Minister Deve Gowda.
1996: The first iteration of the Women's Reservation Bill was presented to the Lok Sabha as the 81st Constitutional Amendment Bill in September 1996.
The Bill was referred to a Joint Parliamentary Committee headed by Geeta Mukherjee after the House rejected it, and the committee's report was presented to Lok Sabha in December 1996. With the Lok Sabha's dissolution, the bill, however, became lapsed.
1998: The bill was reintroduced in the 12th Lok Sabha in 1998, however, the bill lapsed because it did not receive adequate support.
It was reintroduced three more times in 1999, 2002, and 2003. The bill did not win a majority of votes despite having support from major political parties.
2008: The bill was introduced in the Rajya Sabha again in 2008. It was approved with 186 votes to one. However, it was never brought up for discussion in the Lok Sabha and became inoperative upon the dissolution of the 15th Lok Sabha.
Significance of Women’s Reservation
The need for affirmative action to improve the status of women in Indian society is one of the main arguments in favour of the bill.
According to statistics released by the Union government, women hold only 14.94% of seats in the Lok Sabha and 14.05% of seats in the Rajya Sabha.
In the Lok Sabha of 1952, women accounted for a mere 4.4%, and this figure has only marginally increased to 14.94% following the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
Many state assemblies have less than 10% women as members.
Socio-economic significance: Another important claim is that in order to address problems like the high rate of crimes against women, the low participation of women in the workforce, poor nutrition levels, and a skewed sex ratio, women must be represented in the decision-making process.
Women's issues are thought to be discussed more effectively in Parliament if there is more women's representation.
India comes in at number 127 out of 146 nations in the Global Gender Gap Index, 2023.
Concerns in the Women Reservation Bill
One of the main concerns of the bill is that women do not form a homogeneous group like a caste would.
Reserving seats for women would go against the Constitution's guarantee of equality, according to another argument. Those who support this position claim that if a reservation were implemented, women would not be able to compete on their own merits.
Concerns About Perpetuating Gender Disparities: This approach would uphold the existing gender disparities, as it might suggest that women are not being judged based on their qualifications.
Diverting Attention from Crucial Electoral Reforms: This strategy shifts the focus away from more significant electoral reform matters, such as the criminalisation of politics and the state of inner-party democracy.
Restricts Voter Choice: Reserving parliamentary seats for women restricts voter choice. Some experts suggest alternatives like party reservations.
Rotating reserved constituencies in each election might reduce an MP's incentive to work for their constituency.
Regarding the participation of women in the Rajya Sabha and important Committees, this Bill is entirely silent.
Women’s Representation in Other Countries
According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union Report, 2019, the African nation of Rwanda came out on top in the assembly's long-term portrayal with 61.3%, followed by Cuba with 53.2%.
Nepal held the 36th position in South Asia with 32.7%. The unfortunate fact is that India came in at 149th with 14.4% portrayals, in stark contrast to Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Party line reservation: Countries like France, Korea, and Nepal, among others, have passed quotas as high as 50% of the candidate list.
Countries with party quota laws include Argentina, Mexico, and Costa Rica, which also have over 36% female representation in their national legislatures.
% of elected women
UK House of Commons
UK House of Representatives
The Bill's empowerment of women will contribute to the nation's overall development, especially for women, and will help to address the intertwined socioeconomic and political inequality. It is being shown in women's reservation in Panchayats where one-third of the seats in direct panchayat elections are reserved for women as per the 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act of 1992.
Women's deliberate exclusion from political participation is unacceptable and a violation of their democratic and constitutional rights, given the systematic undervaluation of their labour in the socioeconomic sphere. Therefore, it is essential for the government to take proactive affirmative action. Although reservation alone cannot completely eradicate India's deeply ingrained gender bias, it is a vital measure to instigate change and ensure equality.
This provision can bring qualitative change in Indian democracy. This could shape a new feminist politics in India. The Women's Reservation Bill may strengthen the support base. But will women's participation create a new culture in politics and push back patriarchal norms? Much will depend on how these beneficiaries of women's reservation come to terms with identities like caste, sex and religion, which play a big role in our electoral democracy. In the coming years we are going to see a new face of Indian democracy.