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Consensus eludes panel on women’s reservation

Neena Vyas

To strike an accord, wider consultations proposed


The panel has time till April to complete, but could finalise its report by February

The most contentious issue is the demand for a quota for backward caste women


NEW DELHI: Consensus eludes the parliamentary committee looking into the issue of women’s reservation, though it has only a few more months left to complete its report.

To elicit views of smaller regional parties and other stakeholders like non-government organisations on the issue, the committee has been travelling to different States for wider consultations.

Seven States, including Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, have been covered and plans were on to cover the other three southern States in January, committee chairman E.M. Sudarsana Natchiappan told The Hindu on Monday.

Another member of the committee pointed out that ‘Bharat Darshan’ was planned not only on women’s reservation, but also to get a feedback on the working of the Right to Information Act as well as public and media opinion on banning exit polls.

“The committee members will spend two days in Kerala on January 19 and 20, in Karnataka on January 21 and 22 and the next two days in Andhra Pradesh. We have already covered seven States and if some members want to cover some more States like Rajasthan and Haryana, we will try and include those too,” Mr. Natchiappan said.

Apparently, some members of the last select committee to look at the issue 12 years ago had given dissenting notes to the effect that wider consultations were needed on this politically sensitive and problematic subject that has evaded resolution. Mr. Natchiappan said that wider consultations taking place now would meet that criticism. The committee has time till April 2009 to complete its work, but could finalise a report by February, Mr. Natchiappan said.

Some members said discussions on women’s reservation were almost over and one more meeting had to be held before the report was finalised.

However, Mr. Natchiappan felt there would be no point in finalising the report in a hurry without evolving a political consensus. Without consensus, the necessary constitutional amendments cannot take place and the proposed bill would remain a dream.

Lacks political will

Committee member Brinda Karat of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) said the government did not have the political will to see legislation through.

Making it clear that she was not referring to discussions within the committee but to her own and her party’s view on the subject, she said: “The talk about evolving a political consensus is a diversion to conceal the fact that this government has no will to bring the women’s reservation bill as it depends for support on parties that are utterly opposed to it.”

She pointed out that when the government had the will, it enacted contentious legislation even through loud protests in Parliament as witnessed earlier this month.

Issues

The committee has before it several formulae, including an increase in the total seats of Parliament, making it mandatory for political parties to declare 33 per cent women candidates and reserving one-third of all seats in the Lok Sabha and State Assemblies for women.

The most contentious issue is the demand for a quota for Backward Caste women within the larger quota for all women. One view in the committee was that the issue of a quota for Backward Caste women within the overall quota for women should be left to each State. If a few States were to give the green signal, others are likely to follow suit. But this suggestion had been termed by the CPI(M) unconstitutional, and, therefore, given up.

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