Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Women reservation bill

I was asked to write something about women reservation.

By women’s reservation here, we are talking of the representation of women in legislatures. Whatever I am noting here is from the two links that I have given at the end of our noting. Those of you, who have some patience and time, should go through those links. They are very informative and give you the required ammo to fire on your own.

An ILO study shows that while women represent 50 percent of the world adult population and a third of the official labour force, they perform nearly two-third of all working hours, receive a tenth of world income and own less than one percent of world property. This is the backdrop in which a fair representation for the fairer sex has come to be articulated.

In December, 1999 the government of the day introduced a bill to amend the constitution (85th Amendment). The Bill provides for reservation of one-third of all seats in the Lok Sabha and the Vidhan Sabhas for women. This reservation shall also apply for seats reserved for Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs). As the reservation is large, the bill provides for rotation of reservation in every election.

What are the flaws in this bill and why is this not getting passed in the Parliament? Let’s look at them.

The flaws boil down to the two major proposals of the bill viz., the 1/3rd reservation and rotation. Can 1/3rd strength of the Parliament be expected to lose their seats for the sake of women representation? Nobody would be willing for the simple reason that they would not be ready to sacrifice their career for a cause. Secondly, rotation means that every single seat will be rotated. Can any politician build and nurse a constituency with interregnums? Will this serve the cause of leadership development of the society at large? Highly unlikely.

So how to find a way? Let’s look at two of the suggestions:

  1. Compel political parties to mandatorily nominate women candidates for at least one-third of the seats on the pain of losing recognition. The logic behind this suggestion stems from the fact that there is in fact a positive discrimination in favour of women in elections and that the success rates of women contestants are far higher than those of the men candidates. So compelling political parties to ensure that women from 1/3rd of their contesting candidates will serve the purpose. This will be acceptable to political parties also on grounds of merit. They will be free to choose female candidates and constituencies.
    1. This is flawed on two counts. First, it is violative of the constitution. Article 19(1) (c) which guarantees rights to forming associations, is amenable for restrictions only grounds of sovereignty and integrity of India or public order or morality. So a reservation based restriction will not pass muster.
    2. Secondly, there is no guarantee that the women candidates will get elected.
  2. Increase the number of seats in the legislatures. The present strength of legislatures is based on the 1971 census, when the population was about 54 crores. As per the 2001 census, the population is 102 crores, which is almost double that 1971. So if seats are increased, a portion of them can be reserved for women. The strength of the Lok Sabha can be easily increased by one-third to 750. This will take away the fear of any male member to vacate the present seat. These extra seats could be dovetailed into double-member constituencies, which will ensure the reservation of one seat for women and, even permitting two to be elected, if the other woman candidate gets the maximum of the votes polled.
    1. The idea is good and appears practicable. But why have double member constituencies? The number of Lok Sabha seats can be proportionately increased based on the increase in the population. But, all the same such an increase should not be an uncapped increase. There has to be a cap somewhere. Any future increase should ensure that women constitute 1/3rd of the Lok Sabha’s strength at any given point in time.

Do look at the following two links. They are good.

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