HIGHLIGHTS OF THE BILL
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The Constitution (One Hundred and Eighth Amendment) Bill, 2008 seeks to reserve one-third of all seats for women in the Lok Sabha and the state legislative assemblies. The allocation of reserved seats shall be determined by such authority as prescribed by Parliament.
One third of the total number of seats reserved for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes shall be reserved for women of those groups in the Lok Sabha and the legislative assemblies.
Reserved seats may be allotted by rotation to different constituencies in the state or union territory.
KEY ISSUES AND ANALYSIS
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There are divergent views on the reservation policy. Proponents stress the necessity of affirmative action to improve the condition of women. Some recent studies on panchayats have shown the positive effect of reservation on empowerment of women and on allocation of resources.
Opponents argue that it would perpetuate the unequal status of women since they would not be perceived to be competing on merit. They also contend that this policy diverts attention from the larger issues of electoral reform such as criminalisation of politics and inner party democracy.
Reservation of seats in Parliament restricts choice of voters to women candidates. Therefore, some experts have suggested alternate methods such as reservation in political parties and dual member constituencies.
Rotation of reserved constituencies in every election may reduce the incentive for an MP to work for his constituency as he may be ineligible to seek re-election from that constituency.
The report examining the 1996 women's reservation Bill recommended that reservation be provided for women of Other Backward Classes (OBCs) once the Constitution was amended to allow for reservation for OBCs. It also recommended that reservation be extended to the Rajya Sabha and the Legislative Councils. Neither of these recommendations has been incorporated in the Bill.
The 73rd and 74th Amendments passed in 1993, which introduced panchayats and municipalities in the Constitution, reserve one-third of seats for women in these bodies. The Constitution also provides for reservation of seats in Lok Sabha and state legislative assemblies for scheduled castes and scheduled tribes in proportion to their number in the population. The Constitution makes no provision for reserving seats for women in Parliament and the state legislatures. Currently, women constitute 9% of the Lok Sabha, 10% of the Rajya Sabha and 7% of the state legislative assemblies.
During the framing of the Constitution, some women members argued against reservation for women. In 1974, the Report of the Committee on Status of Women highlighted the low number of women in political bodies and recommended that seats be reserved for women in panchayats and municipal bodies. Two dissenting members of the Committee supported reservation of seats in all legislative bodies. The National Perspective Plan for Women (1988) recommended a quota of 30% in panchayats, municipalities and political parties. The National Policy for Empowerment of Women (2001) stated that reservation shall be considered in higher legislative bodies. The United Progressive Alliance's National Common Minimum Programme includes reservation of one-third of seats in Parliament for women. In 1996, 1998 and 1999, Constitution Amendment Bills were introduced to reserve seats for women in Parliament and state legislative assemblies. The 1996 Bill was examined by a Joint Committee of Parliament. All three Bills lapsed with the dissolution of their respective Lok Sabhas.
The Constitution (One Hundred and Eighth Amendment) Bill, 2008 was introduced in the Rajya Sabha. It seeks to reserve one-third of total number of seats for women in the Lok Sabha and in each state legislative assembly.
The Bill seeks to reserve, as nearly as possible, one-third of all seats for women in the Lok Sabha and the state legislative assemblies (including Delhi). The allocation of reserved seats shall be determined by such authority as prescribed by Parliament.
As nearly as possible, one third of the total number of seats reserved for Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribes (SC/ST) in the Lok Sabha and the legislative assemblies shall be reserved for SC/ST women.
Reservation of seats for women shall cease to exist 15 years after the commencement of the Act.
Reserved seats may be allotted by rotation to different constituencies in the state or union territory. If a state or union territory has only one seat in the Lok Sabha, that seat shall be reserved for women in the first general election of every cycle of three elections. If there are two seats, each shall be reserved once in a cycle of three elections. Similar rules apply for seats reserved for SC/STs. Of the two seats in the Lok Sabha reserved for Anglo Indians, one will be reserved for women in each of the two elections in a cycle of three elections.
The Bill reserves one-third of all seats in the legislative assemblies that are to be filled by direct election for women. Such seats may be allotted by rotation to different constituencies in the state. For SC/ST seats, similar rules as those for the Lok Sabha apply.
The issue of reservation of seats for women in Parliament can be examined from three perspectives (a) whether the policy of reservation for women act as an effective instrument for empowerment (as stated in the Statement of Objects and Reasons of the Bill); (b) whether alternate methods of increasing representation of women in Parliament are feasible; and (c) whether issues in the Bill need to be examined.
Puspose of reservation
The proponents of the policy of reservation state that although equality of the sexes is enshrined in the Constitution, it is not the reality. Therefore, vigorous affirmative action is required to improve the condition of women. Also, there is evidence that political reservation has increased redistribution of resources in favour of the groups which benefit from reservation.i A study about the effect of reservation for women in panchayats shows that women elected under the reservation policy invest more in the public goods closely linked to women's concerns.ii A 2008 study, commissioned by the Ministry of Panchayati Raj, reveals that a sizeable proportion of women representatives perceive an enhancement in their self-esteem, confidence and decision-making ability.iii
Alternate methods of representation
Reservation of one-third of seats for women in Parliament restricts the choice of voters in the reserved constituencies. Two alternatives have been suggested by some experts: reservation for candidates within political parties (as some countries do, see Table 1); and dual member constituencies where some constituencies shall have two candidates, one being a woman (see Table 2).
Initially, India had multi-member constituencies which included an SC/ST member. A 1961 Act converted all constituencies into single member constituencies. The reasoning was that the constituencies were too large and SC/ST members felt that they would gain in importance in single-member reserved constituencies.
|Table 1: Country data on political representation of women|
||% of elected women||Quota in Parliament||Quota in political parties*|
|United Kingdom||20 (2005)||No||Yes|
|Sri Lanka||6 (2004)||No||No|
Global Database of Quotas for Women, International IDEA and
Stockholm University and Inter Parliamentary Union
* In several countries, there is no law mandating quotas for women but some political parties reserve seats for women.
|Dual- member constituencies||
|Compiled by PRS based on sources listed in endnotes.|
The Bill states that reserved seats shall be allotted by rotation to different constituencies in the state or union territory. Rotation of reserved seats may reduce the incentive for an MP to work for his constituency as he could be ineligible to seek re-election from that constituency. A study by Ministry of Panchayati Raj recommended that rotation of constituencies should be discontinued at the panchayat level because almost 85% women were first-timers and only 15% women could get re-elected because the seats they were elected from were de-reserved.
Key Recommendations of Joint Parliamentary Committee
A similar Bill was introduced in 1996, and examined by a Joint Committee on the Constitution (Eighty First Amendment) Bill, 1996 (Chairperson: Smt Geeta Mukherjee). Whereas many of its recommendations have been included in the current Bill, recommendations on reservations for OBCs and in the upper Houses have not been included.
Table 3: Key recommendations of the Joint Committee on the 1996 Bill and provisions of the 2008 Bill
|Key Recommendations of Joint Committee on the Constitution (81st Amendment) Bill, 1996||2008 Bill|
|Reservation should be extended to Rajya Sabha and the Legislative Councils.||No|
|The reservation should be extended in the first instance for 15 years then reviewed to decide whether it should be continued.||Yes (no provision for review)|
|Reservation should be provided for women from Other Backward Classes after the Constitution extends reservation to OBCs.||No|
|Reservation to be extended to women of the Anglo-Indian community.||Yes|
|Provision should be made to reserve seats in cases where a state has less than three seats in the Lok Sabha or less than three seats are reserved for SC/STs.||Yes|
|Legislative Assembly of Delhi should be included. (Reservation in Puducherry Assembly requires only an ordinary Act).||Yes|
|Substitute the words ‘not less than one-third’ with ‘as nearly as may be, one-third’.||Yes|
Sources: Report of the Joint Committee on the Constitution (Eighty First Amendment) Bill, 1996, December 9, 1996; PRS.