Women's Bill: Hope runs high to see

Thirteen years and many Lok Sabha elections later, the fate of the Bill has not changed much.

However, there is hope for the pro-Bill votaries that the proposal may now head towards its logical conclusion. And it is not without basis. The Congress-led UPA government, armed with sufficient numbers, is a determined lot that believes it will push the Bill through this time around. However, it will need to iron out some glitches and arrive at a consensus before passing it in the two Houses of Parliament.

On paper, the pro-Bill MPs, consisting of UPA (261 MPs), BJP (116) and Left parties (24), have two-thirds strength needed for the Constitutional amendment to push through the Bill. The major opponents – SP (23), JD (U) (20) and RJD (4) – should not matter. But, Congress has indicated that it will strive to arrive at a consensus even if it means dilution of the present Bill.

“We will walk that extra mile and meet the demands of the anti-Bill leaders”, a Congress leader said. The main opponents – Mulayam Singh Yadav of SP, Sharad Yadav of JD (U), Lalu Prasad of RJD and Vinay Katiyar of BJP – want quota within quota, meaning reservation for backward classes in the Bill. Also, they want the quota to be fixed at 20 per cent instead of 33. They fear that the Bill in its present form will eliminate the regional parties, that only elite among the women will contest elections and male leaders will vanish from the electoral scene. There is also a feeling within Congress and BJP that the space for general category will shrink further. If 33.3 per cent reservation is added to the already existing 22.5 per cent for scheduled castes and tribes, more than 55 per cent of seats in Parliament would be reserved. It is likely that while the UPA will agree for OBC share, it may peg the quota at about 25 per cent.

Bill’s status

After it was introduced last year in Rajya Sabha, the Parliamentary Standing Committee headed by Congress MP Sudarshan Natchiappan prepared draft reports on various aspects of the Bill. It had held discussions with political parties and chief ministers of seven states in a bid to reach a consensus on the issues on which a few political parties had some reservation. Now, a new committee will have to be constituted to study the report of the outgoing panel and come up with its own report. The law ministry will then rework the Bill and send it to the cabinet. After the cabinet nod, the reworked draft Bill will be introduced in RS again and later in LS.

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