Despite new Congress formula, fate of women’s bill uncertain

June 17th, 2008 - 6:25 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, June 17 (IANS) Fresh attempts by the ruling Congress to push through the Women’s Reservation Bill by reducing the percentage of reserved seats from 33 to 20 or 25 may not bear fruit, as other parties are in no mood for a consensus. The Congress has reportedly told the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Law and Justice - that is expected to evolve a consensus on the bill - that the party would not come in the way of its passage if there is a consensus on reducing the quantum of quota along with a quota-within-quota.

However, the MPs, who Tuesday attended the third meeting of the parliamentary panel, expressed apprehensions that the legislation might not become reality in the near future.

“While some parties insist that the bill should be passed in the present form, others say it is not possible. It looks like no one wants it sincerely,” said an MP who is a member of the standing committee.

The parliamentary panel, headed by Congress MP E.M. Sudarsana Natchiappan, has already taken the views of the AIADMK, Congress, Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) and Communist Party of India on the proposed legislation. It has written to 42 regional parties also to submit their opinions on the bill.

The bill seeking 33 percent reservation for women in parliament and legislative assemblies was introduced in the Rajya Sabha amid vehement protests from Samajwadi Party MPs during the budget session this year.

Although the ruling party is preparing a new formula, compromising on the 33 percent quota and reducing it to 20 or 25 percent, the other parties have already rejected such a move.

The Rashtriya Janata Dal, a crucial ally of the Congress in the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), has already clarified that it would not agree with such a proposal and instead insists there should be a sub-quota for Other Backward Classes (OBCs) women in the bill.

“We remain firm on our stand. There will be no compromise with the government without the OBC, minority and Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe sub-quota,” RJD’s deputy leader in the Lok Sabha Devendra Prasad Yadav has told reporters.

From the government’s side, Leader of the Lok Sabha Pranab Mukherjee and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Vayalar Ravi have initiated discussions with the allies as well as other parties to evolve a consensus on the bill.

“We are committed to pass the legislation on women’s quota,” Ravi told IANS here.

Congress leaders, however, say that although the party was “keen” to provide one third quota for women, “it is not likely to happen as many parties have objections”.

“We are putting forward different suggestions to evolve a consensus over the bill. Otherwise, the bill’s fate will be grim,” said a senior Congress leader admitting that reducing the quantum of quota was one such suggestion.

The formula was prepared at a meeting of Congress women ministers, party whips and senior MPs as well as Ravi.

While 33 percent reservation would account for 178 of the 543 elected Lok Sabha seats, bringing down the quantum to 20-25 percent will make it 108-135 seats.

Along with RJD, the Samajwadi Party, which also advocates “quota within quota” - an idea the ruling Congress has so far been opposing - had earlier suggested the women’s quota could be brought down to 15 percent.

“There is no reservation for OBCs in the general category,” pointed out a party leader. The proposed bill has provisions for quota in Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.

If the women’s bill is passed and the government decides to implement it, a Delimitation Commission has to be set up to identify the constituencies reserved for women candidates - a process that will take at least six months.

“If it is to be implemented in the next election, the current Lok Sabha’s tenure should be extended by six months,” said a Congress leader.

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