Govt set to amend Constitution on four counts to empower women

While one seeks to ensure the much-awaited one-third reservation for women in Lok Sabha and state legislative assemblies, two are for enhancing quota for women from existing 33 per cent to 50 per cent of the total seats of panchayati raj institutions and urban local bodies, according to agenda papers.

Of the five constitutional amendment bills, lined up for passage in the winter session, the fourth one is aimed at providing autonomy to cooperative societies and strengthening democratic norms in their functioning.

Though the fifth constitutional amendment bill is for changing the spelling of the "Oriya" language to "Odia" in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution, the government will be seeking enactment of another law to provide women security in workplace and prevent their sexual exploitation.

Reacting to the line-up of the constitutional amendment bills, former Lok Sabha Secretary-General S C Kashyap told PTI, "On the face of it, these bills together would surely enhance women empowerment and spread parliamentary democracy to grassroots level.

"But much will also depend upon how these laws are implemented after their enactment," said Kashyap, adding a note of caution.

The Constitution (108th Amendment) Bill, 2010, seeking to reserve 33 per cent seats for women in Parliament and legislative assemblies, has already been passed by Rajya Sabha during on March 9 amid stiff opposition by Samajwadi Party, Rastriya Janata Dal and Janata Dal (U).

The bill, seeking to reserve 181 of the 543 Lok Sabha seats and 1,370 out of a total of 4,109 seats in 28 state assemblies for women, is slated to be taken up for consideration and passage by the Lok Sabha in the current session.

Two other bills - the Constitution (110th Amendment) Bill, 2009 and the Constitution (112th Amendment) Bill, 2009, respectively seeking to increase the reserved seats for women in rural panchayats and urban local bodies from one-third to half of the total number of seats too are already pending with parliament since last winter sessions.

The government had decided to enact the two legislations in line with President Pratibha Patil's address to Parliament on June 4, 2009.

"The women suffer multiple deprivations of class, caste and gender and enhancing reservation in Panchayats (and local urban bodies) will lead to more women entering into the public sphere," Patil had said.

The two bills, introduced in the Lok Sabha in November 2009, had been referred for examination to various lawmakers' panels, which submitted their reports on them respectively in July and June this year.

The fourth bill, the Constitution (111th Amendment) Bill, 2009, seeking to democratize the functioning of cooperative societies, too was introduced in Lok Sabha last November and was subsequently examined by a lawmakers' panel attached to agriculture ministry. The panel tabled its report to Parliament on August 30.

While women will be accorded 33 percent reservation in Lok sabha and state assemblies for the first time after the passage of the Constitution (108th Amendment) Bill 2010, they have been enjoying 33 percent quota in panchyati raj institutions and various urban local bodies after passage of 73rd and 74th amendments to the Constitution in 1993.

The lawmakers' panel, which examined the bill for raising women's quota in panchayats to 50 percent, termed the 73rd amendment as "a landmark legislation" which gave "India the unique distinction of having more elected women representatives (EWRs) than the rest of the world together."

Pointing out that the 73rd amendment has ensured election of over 10,48,148 elected women representatives out of total 28,51,739 representatives in country's three-tier rural panchayats, the panel said it has caused a "silent revolution" to "the process of decentralisation of parliamentary democracy" in the country.

Similarly, the 74th amendment to the constitution, has till 2002, ensured the election of 22,665 women out of total 67,990 representatives in urban local bodies, said another lawmakers' panel attached to urban development ministry and headed by Janata Dal (United) Leader Sharad Yadav. 

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