Rajya Sabha clears historic women's reservation bill unanimously

New Delhi: Scripting history, Rajya Sabha has passed the women’s reservation bill as 214 members in the house voted in favour of it. With this, the country is all set to grant 33 per cent reservation to women in the Lok Sabha and state assemblies. 

Unlike the Lok Sabha, where two of the 456 MPs present in the House had voted against the Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam, all the 214 lawmakers present in the Rajya Sabha voted in its favour on Thursday.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi thanked the MPs for supporting the legislation. “This spirit that has been created will create a new self-confidence among the people of the country and all MPs and political parties have played a very important role in it,” he said.

The 128th Constitution amendment bill, referred to as the Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam, will now require the approval of a majority of state assemblies. It will be implemented after a delimitation exercise to redraw parliamentary and assembly constituencies based on census which the government has said will be commissioned next year.

Vice President and Rajya Sabha Chairman Jagdeep Dhankhar said, “A milestone in the nation’s journey towards empowering Nari Shakti! Following extensive discussion with participation of members across political parties, #RajyaSabha unanimously passed the Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam.”

While members cutting across party lines supported the bill, many wanted to know the timeline for its implementation.

Law Minister Arjun Ram Meghwal, however, said none should have any doubt on its implementation as “Modi hai to Mumkain Hai (Modi makes it possible)”.

The bill was passed after several amendments including ones for giving other backward classes (OBCs) reservation within the 33 per cent quota were rejected. The reservation for women in the Lok Sabha and state assemblies will be both horizontal and vertical, applying to the SC-ST categories.

Meghwal questioned the “sudden found love” of the Congress and other parties “for OBCs”, saying their demand just reflected their political compulsion. He said the Congress had not fulfilled Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar’s desire for a commission on backward classes.

Women constitute nearly half of the country’s 95 crore registered voters but comprise only 15 per cent of lawmakers in Parliament and 10 per cent in state assemblies.

The law minister, while replying to the debate in the Upper House, said census is not a simple exercise of headcount as it involved collection of data related to various social and economic parameters. He assured the House the government is committed to the implement of the women’s reservation bill and there is need to cast any apprehension.

Intervening in the nearly 11-hour debate, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said census couldn’t happen in 2021 because of the Covid pandemic and would be taken up soon after the 2024 general elections.

On why the government has convened a special session of Parliament, Sitharaman said, “We have come into a new complex, new building for Parliament, new India. We would like this Parliament to deal with one of the best bills that it can deal with.”

The 33 per cent reservation for women will not apply to the Upper House of Parliament and state legislative councils.

Responding to the “well-meaning” suggestion for reservation for women in the Rajya Sabha and state legislative councils as well, she said it would not be workable because the members are elected through indirect elections.

“What this bill provides for is reservation of seats for women in Lok Sabha. I have heard some members saying that reservation should also be given in Upper House (Rajya Sabha). With the indirect election process and the way in which preferences (are) shown in the voting, it’s just not going to be possible to do any reservation,” she said

Supporting the bill, Leader of Opposition Mallikarjun Kharge sought know the timeline for implementation of the proposed law and also demanded the reservations for OBCs. He asked the government to bring amendments to this effect in the next session and assured the Congress party’s support.

He also said the government should have implemented the bill immediately like it did in case of demonitisation of high currency notes within few hours notice and passed three farm laws.

Kharge said the Congress party is supporting this Bill, but this law should not become another “jumla” like the promise of two crore jobs per year and the “deposit of Rs 15 lakh in bank account of every citizen”.

After passage of the Bill, PM in a post on X, said, “A defining moment in our nation’s democratic journey! Congratulations to 140 crore Indians.”

He thanked all the Rajya Sabha MPs who voted for the Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam and said such unanimous support is indeed gladdening.

“With the passage of the Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam in Parliament, we usher in an era of stronger representation and empowerment for the women of India. This is not merely a legislation; it is a tribute to the countless women who have made our nation. India has been enriched by their resilience and contributions,” Modi said.

This historic step is a commitment to ensuring their voices are heard even more effectively, the prime minister said.

Later, the prime minister posed for a photograph with women lawmakers, many of whom distributed sweets to celebrate the passage of the bill. Many women members also praised the prime minister for his decisive leadership in the passage of the bill.

Productivity of the Lok Sabha was more than 160 per cent during the four-day special session.

Both the Houses were adjourned sine die after the passage of the bill. 

(With agency inputs.)