A Primer on the Women’s Reservation Bill, 2023

The Lok Sabha, on September 20, 2023,  almost unanimously passed the Women Reservation Bill 2023 to amend the Constitution that aims to provide one-third reservation to women in the Lok Sabha, State Assemblies and National Capital Territory of Delhi. 

The Constitution (One Hundred and Twenty-eight Amendment) Bill 2023, which Union Law Minister Arjun Ram Meghwal introduced on the second day of the Special Session of Parliament, was passed with two-thirds of members present in Lok Sabha. 

Now, the Rajya Sabha will take the Bill for passage in the last two days of the Special Session of Parliament and would require a go-ahead from half of the states. 

A similar reservation will also be extended to the seats reserved for SC and ST. The Bill puts forward that the reservation will continue for 15 years. Also, seats reserved for women will be rotated after each delimitation exercise. 

A brief history of the Women’s Reservation Bill

A provision for women’s reservation in panchayats and municipalities was given by inserting articles 243D and 243T in the Constitution through the respective Constitution (73rd Amendment) Act, 1992 and the Constitution (74th Amendment) Act, 1992. 

Then, the introduction of the Constitution (81st Amendment) Bill, 1996, in the Eleventh Lok Sabha on September 12, 1996, aimed to reserve about one-third of the total number of seats filled based on direct election in the House of the People and in the Legislative Assemblies of the States for women members in particular. 

This particular Bill was referred to the Joint Committee of Parliament, which added muscle to provisions of the Bill by extending the provision of reservations for women even in those circumstances where the number of seats was below three in a State or a Union Territory.  However, the Constitution (81st Amendment) Bill, 1996 lapsed with the dissolution of the 11th Lok Sabha. 

With the introduction of the Constitution (84th Amendment) Bill, 1998, in Lok Sabha on December 14, 1998, an attempt was made to provide reservation for women in Lok Sabha and the State Assemblies and in the Legislative Assembly of the National Capital Territory of Delhi for a period of 15 years. However,  this particular Bill lapsed on the dissolution of the 12th Lok Sabha.

Then, with the introduction of the Constitution (85th Amendment) Bill, 1999, in Lok Sabha on December 23, 1999, another attempt was made in this direction.  However, this Bill also had not been pursued because of a lack of consensus amongst the various political parties. 

Furthermore,  a Bill to reserve seats for women in the Lower House of  Parliament, State Legislatures, and Delhi Legislative Assembly was introduced about a decade ago. 

Back then, the Constitution (One Hundred and Eighth Amendment) Bill, 2008, was passed by the Rajya Sabha in 2010. However, this particular Bill lapsed after the dissolution of the 15th Lok Sabha in 2009-14.

Another step in women’s empowerment

With a total of 542 members in the current Lok Sabha, out of this, 78 (14.39%) are women members. In 2022, in response to a Parliamentary question, the government stated that the average number of women Members of Legislative Assemblies (MLAs) across the country accounts for only 8%. 

It is now expected that both the Lok Sabha and States and Union Territory Assemblies will witness a spike in women members, which is likely to be significant in the case of States or UTs.

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