The Lok Sabha on Wednesday passed the Constitution (128th Amendment) Bill, 2023 (Women's Reservation Bill) which reserves one-third of the seats in parliament and State legislative assemblies for women.
Members of the Lok Sabha cast their votes for the passage of the bill using slips.
454 Members of Parliament (MPs) voted in favour of the bill while 2 voted against it.
The Bill was introduced by Union Minister of State for Law & Justice Arjun Ram Meghwal on Tuesday amid opposition from MPs as they had not seen a copy.
After the government maintained that the Bill was 'uploaded in the supplementary list of business', the Bill was introduced by voice-vote.
The Bill seeks to reserve one-third of all seats for women in the Lok Sabha and the State legislative assemblies.
The seats already reserved for Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs) will also come within the purview of the women's reservation.
A legislation on similar lines was sought to be introduced back in 2008. While that Bill was passed in the Rajya Sabha in 2010, it failed to see the light of day.
Notably, the Bill states that the reservation will come into effect once an exercise of delimitation is undertaken in the first census after the commencement of the Act.
Congress parliamentary party Chairperson Sonia Gandhi expressed Congress' support for the Bill but questioned why it was contingent on the census and delimitation exercise.
She further emphasized the need for a caste census to ensure reservation for women belonging to SCs, STs as well as other backward classes (OBCs).
"Congress supports the Women's Reservation Bill. We are happy with it. There is one concern as well. I want to ask a question. For 13 years, women have been waiting for their political responsibilities. Now, they are being told to wait longer. How many years? 2? 4? 8? Is this behaviour appropriate? We ask that this bill be passed soon but caste census also be conducted to provide for reservation to SC, ST and OBC women. The Government must take steps to make this happen," she said.
Sangeeta Azad of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) supported the Bill but called for 50% reservation for instead of 33%. Azad also called for reservation for women belonging to OBCs along with SCs and STs and requested the government to conduct the census expeditiously.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi also stated that he would have liked to see OBC reservation included in the Bill, stating,
"I think it is very important that a large chunk of India's population, a large chunk of India's women should have access to this reservation. That is missing in this bill."
Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) MP Kanimozhi stated that in reply to her questions regarding the Bill in the past, the government's reply had been very consistent - that they have to involve all stakeholders, political parties and then build a consensus before bringing the Bill.
She raised concerns about the lack of consensus and discussions preceding the Bill's introduction, remarking,
"I'd like to know what consensus was built, what discussions were held. This Bill was brought shrouded in secrecy."
Responding to the grievances of opposition parties regarding reservations for OBCs, Union Home Minister Amit Shah stated that the current Constitution allows election from thee categories - the general category which includes OBCs, and from SCs and STs.
Arjun Ram Meghwal stated that Article 82 of the Constitution clearly states that readjustment of seats is a part of delimitation.
"How will you decide which seats are to be reserved? If we do it that way, you (opposition parties) will file a PIL in Supreme Court," he added.
As per the statement of object and reasons of the Bill, the role of women, who constitute half the country's population, is extremely important in realisation of the goal of becoming Vikasit Bharat by 2047."
The Bill says that despite a number of steps to bring Nari Shakti to the forefront, true empowerment of women will require greater participation of women in the decision making process as they bring different perspectives and enrich the quality of legislative debates and decision-making.