As a result of a historic move, the Women Reservation Bill, 2023, which is known as the 'Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam,' has been passed with resounding support in both the Lok Sabha (The Lower House) and the Rajya Sabha (The Upper House) of the Indian Parliament. This bill calls for the reservation of one-third, or 33%, of all seats for women in the Lok Sabha and state legislative assemblies. While this development is cause for celebration, it is essential to delve deeper into the intricacies of this groundbreaking legislation, its journey through India's political landscape, and the road ahead.
The Genesis of the entire bill
The journey of the introduction of the Woman’s Reservation Bill dates back to the late 20th century when the political empowerment of women in India gained momentum. The insertion of articles 243D and 243T in the Constitution via the Constitution (73rd Amendment) Act, 1992, provided for the reservation of seats for women in Panchayats and Municipalities. However, the push for women's representation at higher levels of government faced several hurdles.
The Constitution (81st Amendment) Bill, 1996, was introduced in the Eleventh Lok Sabha, aiming to reserve one-third of seats in the Lok Sabha and state legislative assemblies for women. The Bill was thereafter referred to the Joint Committee of Parliament, which underwent several amendments, including extending reservation even in cases where the number of seats was less than three in a State or Union territory. Despite these efforts, it lapsed with the dissolution of the 11th Session of the Lok Sabha.
Subsequent attempts, which include the Constitution (84th Amendment) Bill, 1998, and the Constitution (85th Amendment) Bill, 1999, were made but they were widely hindered by a lack of consensus among political parties.
The Turning Point in the course of this development
A significant breakthrough occurred in 2008 when the Constitution (One Hundred and Eighth Amendment) Bill, 2008, was passed by the Rajya Sabha. This bill aimed to reserve seats for women in the Lok Sabha and state assemblies for a period of fifteen years from its enactment. However, it faced challenges in the Lok Sabha and ultimately lapsed due to dissolution.
The Current Bill and Its Provisions
The Women Reservation Bill, of 2023, marks a renewed effort to promote gender equality in Indian politics. It introduces a crucial amendment to Article 239AA (Special provisions with respect to Delhi) and the addition of three new articles: Articles 330A, 332A, and 334A. These new articles seek to introduce a 33% reservation for women in the Lok Sabha and state legislative assemblies.
Notably, the bill's enforcement is proposed to take place only after a delimitation exercise based on the Census data. Given that the last Census data is from 2011 and the 2021 Census was delayed due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, it may not be implemented until 2029, assuming delimitation occurs after the 2026 Census.
Impact on Representation
The current scenario in Indian politics reveals a glaring gender disparity. While women constitute nearly half of India's registered voters, they hold only 15% of seats in Parliament and 10% in state assemblies. The passage of the Women's Reservation Bill is expected to bring a seismic shift in this landscape. In the Lok Sabha, with 542 members, only 14.39% are women. The bill's enactment will undoubtedly boost the representation of women in both Parliament and state assemblies, with a more dramatic rise expected at the state level.
Challenges and Implementation
The process of passing a Constitutional Amendment Bill in India requires a special majority in both houses of Parliament and ratification by at least 50% of the states, as it affects their rights. While most political parties support the bill, there may still be challenges in ensuring its passage.
Moreover, the implementation of the bill hinges on the completion of the Census, which was due in 2021 but remains uncertain due to ongoing issues. Additionally, the government has indicated that delimitation might occur after the 2026 Census, delaying implementation until 2029.
The Women Reservation Bill, of 2023, is a testament to India's commitment to gender equality in politics. Its journey, marked by multiple attempts and obstacles, reflects the nation's evolving understanding of the importance of women's representation in governance. While the bill's implementation faces challenges and may take several years, it is a significant step toward a more inclusive and equitable political landscape in India. As experienced lawyers, we must monitor its progress and contribute to ensuring that gender equality becomes an enduring reality in Indian politics.
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