For long, social activists and leaders have clamoured for the inclusion of the women’s reservation bill that guarantees them a 33% quota in Lok Sabha and state assemblies.
Named the Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam, it was cleared by the parliament on Thursday.
The reservation, according to reports, will be provided for 15 years. After each Delimitation, the seats for women will be rotated.
For the uninitiated, Delimitation is the way of redrawing Parliamentary and Assembly constituencies based on data from the latest population.
A retired Supreme Court Judge heads the Delimitation Commission and does the work of analysis of the Census data. The Commission is expected to demarcate fresh Lok Sabha constituencies based on the Census data. The Census figures reserve constituencies for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.
However, Union Home Minister Amit Shah has said that the reservation won’t be implemented in the 2024 elections. He clarified that the next government would conduct the Delimitation exercise after the elections to set the process to make reservations for women in Lok Sabha and State Assemblies.
Introducing the bill, Law Minister Arjun Ram Meghwal said, “This constitutional amendment is both horizontal and vertical. There is a reservation for SC and ST women also because census and Delimitation are necessary.”
He clarified that the Delimitation Commission would decide the seat for women after the delimitation exercise. How it impacts the bill is the question.
Reports claim that according to conservative estimates, India’s population has risen by approximately 30% since the last census in 2011, leading to an increase in Lok Sabha seats (210 over 546). The total seats would likely be around 753.
Unnamed officials in the Election Commission have said that to reserve 33% of the total seats in the Lok Sabha and Legislative Assemblies for women, a triple test is mandatory.
A survey of the women in the total population is the first step, followed by an assessment of the share and representation of women in the Assemblies and Parliament.
Government sources further informed media outlets that even if the Census work starts later in 2024, it would take a minimum of two years, which could delay the Delimitation exercise.
SK Mendiratta, former Legal Advisor to the Election Commission of India and a member of the 2002 Delimitation Commission, made pertinent observations in the Bill which contradicted other Constitutional Provisions.
“There is an apparent contradiction between the bill and the Constitutional provisions. They have said the reservation will be implemented after the first census has been taken up after the passing of this act. However, there is a provision in existing Article 82 and Article 170 (3) which says that the next Delimitation will be taken up only after the 2026 Census. Normally, we thought the next Census would be in 2031—now they say Delimitation will be based on the first census after the passing of the act — if they want the census earlier and not in 2031 they should have amended articles 82 and 170 – otherwise how can they say reservation will be implemented after 2029?” Mendiratta was quoted as saying.
He added that the Delimitation exercise was not necessary to implement the Bill. “Constituencies are already demarcated. They will hold the 2024 elections. They can decide via lottery also. For SC and ST reservations, we have to go by the population in each constituency, but the women’s population is not going to be different,” he told a news portal.
Senior advocate Gopal Sankarnarayanan went to the extent of calling the Delimitation requirement a red herring and the means to pay lip service to the issue of women’s reservation.
“Both Delimitation and census are completely unconnected to Women’s reservation,” Sankarnarayanan told the portal. “The SC/ST quota is there but the reservation for women can be applied horizontally. Which means that one-third of all available seats can be for women. The only relevant number is the number of women who are currently in Parliament. Every other number is a red herring- it’s a bogey. It’s some method being used by the government to ensure that they can only do lip service.”.
Senior Advocate Sukumar Pattjoshi observed that the onus was on the Parliament to decide when a provision must be implemented. “For any amendment, they can always decide its effective date. Why is it done, I cannot say,” he asked.
The BJP has, however, backed the delimitation exercise and Census. “The issue of reservation in Parliament is one which is horizontal (for women) and vertical (SC/ST). In this regard, it would be prudent to first carry out the delimitation and then implement the reservation,” sources told the portal. “It would be incorrect to term women’s reservation as merely a horizontal type of reservation. This is because reservations for SC/ST exist in the Lok Sabha (with around 120 seats being reserved). This will create an overlap as the women’s reservation will also touch upon the reservation granted to SCs and STs. Therefore, if we implement the reservation post delimitation, it will ensure that this issue of ‘overlap’ is suitably dealt with without creating any legal tussles which may derail the process of women’s reservation altogether. Moreover, it will ensure that women get a greater number of seats and are adequately represented in lacking constituencies as per the census.”
What’s the Supreme Court’s stance? As the portal highlights, Article 15 of the Constitution prohibits discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth. It’s clause 3 that allows special provisions for women and children.
In the same vein, Article 16 provides for equality of opportunity in matters of public employment.
As of now, the SC has many petitions regarding the legitimacy of reservations, how they must be implemented, and the necessity for a caste census to regulate the actual representation of the SC/ST and OBCs in education, employment, and local body election reservations.