The Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam, the 128th Constitution amendment Bill seeking to reserve a third of the seats in the Lok Sabha and Legislative Assemblies for women, became the first Bill the Narendra Modi government introduced in the new Parliament building at its inaugural sitting on Tuesday.
The Bill, which the Union Cabinet passed on Monday and which will be taken by the Lok Sabha for discussion on Wednesday, triggered a blame game among political parties and also there were efforts to claim credit for it.
The Congress accused the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of dragging its feet on it and introducing it now with elections in mind. Former Congress president Sonia Gandhi claimed it to be “ours”, a reference to the United Progressive Alliance government ensuring its passage in the Rajya Sabha in 2010. Union Home Minister Amit Shah accused the Congress of “tokenism”, alleging that it either allowed the Bill to lapse or had its friendly parties preventing it from being tabled.
The Opposition said the provisions of the Bill ensured that it would not be implemented before 2034, if not even later.
The Bill envisages reserving seats for women after the next delimitation. The delimitation was scheduled for 2026 but is unlikely in the absence of the latest census data because the government didn’t conduct the 2021 census, attributing its inability to the pandemic. This effectively postpones the proposed law’s implementation by at least five years, if not more. The Bill also has a 15-year sunset clause for the quota, which can be extended, and reserves seats for Scheduled Caste (SC) and Scheduled Tribe (ST) women from the seats meant for these communities.
The Bill, like its precursor, the 108th amendment Bill passed by the Rajya Sabha in 2010, proposes amending Article 239AA and inserting Articles 330A, 332A and 334A. The last one deals with the sunset clause for the reservation of seats for SCs and STs.
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Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who led parliamentarians from the old building — he proposed it be named Samvidhan Sadan — to the new Sansad Bhavan in the afternoon, announced in the Lok Sabha the government’s intention to bring women’s reservation, pending for 27 years, as the first Bill and urged the House to pass it unanimously. He also spoke of India’s initiative highlighting women-led development in the G20 and his government’s schemes for women.
Union Law Minister Arjun Ram Meghwal introduced the Bill and pointed out that the 2010 Bill was a dead letter, rendering the Congress claim weak. It had lapsed with the dissolution of the 15th Lok Sabha since the Rajya Sabha “transmitted” it to the Lok Sabha.
While the Lok Sabha will take up the Bill for discussion and passage on Wednesday, Modi hoped the Rajya Sabha would clear it subsequently, that is, during the five-day special session.
The government’s eagerness is out of joint, the Opposition said, because the deadline for implementing the Bill is at least five years away if not 10. While most Opposition parties, barring exceptions such as the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), will support the Bill, they said they would characterise the move as an election “jumla”, or slogan, and suggest improvements to the proposed law. They could also highlight the fact, as the Trinamool Congress plans to do, that they have a third of their seats reserved for women.
The BSP demanded a distinct reservation for SC and ST women.