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Rajya Sabha passes Women's Reservation Bill

K.V. Prasad

Manmohan describes development as “momentous in the long journey in the empowerment of women”

Photo: R.V.Moorthy

A dream come true: (From left): The former Rajya Sabha Chairman, Najma Heptullah, Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj and

NEW DELHI: The Rajya Sabha on Tuesday took “a historic and giant step'' by voting (191 for and 1 against) to amend the Constitution, providing one-third reservation of seats in Parliament and State Assemblies for women.

The House recorded its vote at 7.25 p.m., with almost the entire House supporting the Bill. Sharad Joshi of the Swatanatra Bharat Paksh was the lone “nay” sayer when Chairman Hamid Ansari took the final count on the passage of the Bill after three hours of debate.

The Bill has to be passed by the Lok Sabha and ratified by 50 per cent of the States before it comes into effect.

While the passage of the Bill was smooth, the process itself started on a stormy note. Marshals ringed the Chair and the official table, target of attacks by dissenting members – four from the Samajwadi Party (SP) and one each of the Janata Dal (United), Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the Lok Jan Shakti Party (LJP), who were physically evicted. Earlier, the House voted to suspend them for the remainder of the session for their behaviour on Monday.

The Bahujan Samaj Party walked out before voting, disagreeing with the current Bill, while the SP and RJD members went out after discussions, demanding revocation of their party colleagues' suspension.

Conveying deep sorrow for the tumultuous scenes, including attacks toward the Chair on Monday, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh apologised to the Chairman.

The Opposition criticised the floor management in the last two days that led to frequent disruptions and, asked the Congress not to take credit for a measure supported by political parties across the spectrum.

Present through the debate, Dr. Singh, intervened twice. Once when amid pandemonium voting was called without debate and later during the discussion, saying the “landmark legislation was a living proof that the heart of India is democratically sound and in the right place.''

Recalling the contribution made by the late CPI leader, Geeta Mukherjee, who headed the parliamentary committee that studied the first version of the Bill in 1996, he described the current development as “momentous in the long journey in the empowerment of women that would allow the country realise the full potential of social and economic development.” He said, “It is a historic step, a giant step'' in the process.


“HISTORIC STEP”: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh speaks during the discussion on the Women's Bill

Initiating the debate, Leader of the Opposition Arun Jaitley forwarded a dexterous argument. He said one-third reservation was the best option and it was proven in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Rwanda where the percentage of women representation was greater, compared to advanced countries, which either had a List system or fixed quotas for parties to allocate seats.

Criticism of rotation of the constituencies was unfounded, since at the end of the 15-year cycle of this provision, all the constituencies would have been represented by a woman once. On sub-quota for OBCs and Muslims, as demanded by the SP and RJD, he said the current provision in the Constitution was only for SCs and STs.

While urging the dissenting members to respect the majority view, he said those barred to take part in the proceedings be allowed to record their dissent during the vote.

Jayanti Natarajan, who heads the parliamentary committee that scrutinised the Bill, said no other party had either the courage or political will to push this legislation, which was a step forward to the move by Rajiv Gandhi, who reserved one-third seats in panchayats and local bodies for women.

Praising the role of women's organisations behind the Bill, Brinda Karat (CPI-M) said experience of panchyats and local bodies showed that women had worked for the uplift of the village and community. The tendency of proxy politics was a reflection of the male-domination in society. The measure was the beginning as women were still toiling and fighting for their rights every day. It would also allow women break the stereo-type image in society.

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