Crucial women’s quota bill lapses for the fourth time

Parliament4Amid a plethora of gestures on women’s empowerment, a crucial piece of legislation, a bill reserving 33 percent of seats in parliament and the state assemblies for women, has again lapsed with the 15th Lok Sabha holding its last sitting ahead of the April-May general elections.

This is the fourth time the bill has lapsed. If cleared, it would have set aside 390 and 2,060 seats in parliament and the state assemblies respectively for women in this election.

The Rajya Sabha passed the bill on March 9, 2010, and sent it to the Lok Sabha. Since the bill was not passed by the Lok Sabha before the end of the extended winter session on Feb 21, it stands lapsed, according to PRS Legislative Research. Under article 107 of the constitution, only bills which are introduced and pending in the Rajya Sabha do not lapse when the Lok Sabha term ends.

Also according to the Rajya Sabha Legislative Guidelines: “After the dissolution of the Lok Sabha, all bills, except the bills introduced in the Rajya Sabha and pending therein, lapse.” ”The women’s reservation bill has been passed by the upper house and is currently the property of the Lok Sabha, thus it stands lapsed the day the new parliament is constituted after the general elections,” G.C. Malhotra, a former Lok Sabha secretary general, told IANS.

A total of 68 bills, including the women’s reservation bill and another reserving 50 percent of seats in panchayats for women, are slated to lapse with the end of the 15th Lok Sabha. The second bill would have set aside a staggering 14 lakh seats for women. The next government would have to restart the entire process, from the introduction to getting the bill passed in both houses of parliament, PRS Legislative Research said.

“If other bills can be pushed through under unprecedented circumstances, then why not the women’s reservation bill,” Annie Raja, one of the most vocal activists in favour of the bill, asked while speaking to IANS. ”The UPA has time and again promised that the bill would be passed. It has played with the sentiments of women on this issue,” she added.

The main opposition to the bill had come from parties like the Janata Dal-United, the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Samajwadi Party, which demanded a separate quota for OBCs and SC/STs within the women’s quota. The Shiv Sena, the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen Party (AIMIM) and the Bahujan Samajwadi Party (BSP) also opposed the bill in its present form.

The bill had been introduced in the Rajya Sabha by the UPA-1 in 2008. As it was a Rajya Sabha bill, it survived the dissolution of the 14th Lok Sabha in 2009. The upper house passed it in 2010 after protesting Samajwadi Party MPs were removed from the house. This will be the fourth time the bill will lapse.

The bill was first introduced in 1996 by the Deve Gowda-led United Front government in the Lok Sabha. It lapsed when in 1997 the house was dissolved. In 1998, the bill was introduced by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government in the 12th Lok Sabha. It lapsed in April 1999 when the Lok Sabha was dissolved. The Vajpayee-led NDA government again introduced the bill in the Lok Sabha in 1999 but it lapsed in 2004 when the 13th Lok Sabha was dissolved.

In 2008, the UPA-1 government of Manmohan Singh introduced the bill in the Rajya Sabha during the term of the 14th Lok Sabha. The rest, as they say, is history.