With caveats of census and delimitation, Narendra Modi government introduces Women’s Reservation Bill

This bill, officially known as the Naari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam, aims to ensure that 33 percent of seats in the Lok Sabha and state assemblies are reserved for women.

BySumit Jha

Published Sep 19, 2023 | 4:07 PMUpdatedSep 19, 2023 | 4:17 PM

With caveats of census and delimitation, Narendra Modi government introduces Women’s Reservation Bill

Thirteen years after it was passed in the Rajya Sabha, the Women’s Reservation Bill made a comeback to Parliament on Tuesday, 19 September.

Union Law Minister Arjun Ram Meghwal introduced afresh in the Lok Sabha a Bill seeking one-third reservation for women in Parliament and state legislative Assemblies.

This Bill, officially known as the Naari Shakti Vandan Adhineeyam 2023, however, comes with caveats, raising questions about the current government’s intent behind introducing it.

Despite the longstanding desire of half the country’s population for one-third representation in the Lok Sabha, they would have to wait for at least another five years to see this materialise, even if the current Bill is passed by both Houses of Parliament.

This waiting period hinges on the government’s willingness to initiate the already-delayed decadal census, and a subsequent delimitation exercise that is supposed to happen in 2026 and has been red-flagged by the Southern states.

Timeline: Chequered journey of the Women’s Reservation Bill

The Bill

After all the hype since Monday evening, when the Union Cabinet gave its nod to the Women’s Reservation Bill, it was presented during the special session held at the new Parliament building. Labelled as the 128th Constitutional Amendment Bill, it was introduced by Law Minister Meghwal.

The legislation stipulates the reservation of seats for women in the Lok Sabha, the lower house of Parliament. According to the amendment, one-third of the total Lok Sabha seats will be allocated for women, a move designed to enhance women’s representation in the national legislature.

This amendment also applies universally to the legislative Assemblies of all Indian states.

Consistent with the provisions for the Lok Sabha and the Delhi Assembly, of the one-third seats reserved for women, a third will be kept for women from Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs).

However, all these provisions will cease to have effect after a period of 15 years from such commencement.

Also Read: As Cabinet approves women’s Bill, Congress welcomes move

The caveats

The Bill outlines that these provisions regarding seat reservations for women in the Lok Sabha, state Assemblies, and the Delhi Assembly will only take effect after a delimitation exercise is conducted.

In effect, even if the Bill is passed, no such reservation of 33 percent will be made for women in the upcoming 2024 Lok Sabha polls.

The Bill specifies that these provisions will come into effect following the publication of relevant figures from the first census conducted after the commencement of the Constitution (One Hundred and Twenty-eighth Amendment) Act, 2023.

Which means, the quota will kick in based on the census carried out after the reservation Bill becomes a law.

The census, which was supposed to be conducted in 2021, is still pending, and could be conducted after the general election in 2024. Also, the pending delimitation exercise is supposed to take place in 2026 — again based on the census.

It indicates that even if this Bill is passed in this Parliament session, the reservation in the Lok Sabha and the Assemblies won’t take place before the 2029 election.

Opposition calls it another jumla

Opposition parties were quick to point out the caveats to the Bill. Congress MP Jairam Ramesh said that the introduction of Bill is mere “event management” ahead of the coming election Lok Sabha election in 2024, while the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) called it the “Mahila Bewakoof Banao Bill”, or Fool the Women Bill.

“In a season of election jumlas, this one is the biggest of them all! A huge betrayal of the hopes of crores of Indian women and girls. As we had pointed out earlier, the Modi government has not yet conducted the 2021 Decadal Census making India the only country in G20 that has failed to carry out the Census,” Ramesh said.

He added: ”Now it says that the reservation for women will come into effect only following the first Decadal Census conducted AFTER the Women’s Reservation Bill has become an Act. When will this Census take place?”

“Will the Census and delimitation be done before the 2024 elections? Basically, the Bill gets the headlines today with a very vague promise of its implementation date. This is nothing but EVM — EVent Management,” he said.

The AAP, meanwhile, demanded the provisions of delimitation and census be removed from Women’s Reservation Bill, and said the reservation must be implemented for the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.

Also Read: Kavitha writes to 47 parties ahead of Parliament special session

What is delimitation?

Delimitation in the Indian Parliament involves redrawing constituency boundaries to ensure equal population representation.

Mandated by the Constitution and governed by the Delimitation Commission Act, it’s a periodic process conducted by an independent Delimitation Commission.

Census data and other factors guide the adjustments, with the goal of achieving fairness and equal representation in Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha, and State Legislative Assemblies.

The process aims to uphold the democratic principle of “one person, one vote” by adjusting constituencies to reflect changing demographics and population shifts approximately every 10 years.

Several states, especially states in the South, have repeatedly expressed concerns about delimitation based solely on the population.

If carried out solely on the basis of population, the delimitation process could undermine political representation from southern states — which have controlled their populations — while providing greater representation to states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.