Paving the way for its enactment, the Rajya Sabha passed the Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam — the women’s reservation Bill, or the 128th Constitution amendment Bill on Thursday, with all 215 members present in the House in favour. The Lok Sabha had cleared the Bill, which seeks to reserve one-third of all Lok Sabha and Legislative Assembly seats for women, the previous day.
At the time of voting, Vice-President Jagdeep Dhankhar informed the members of the Upper House about the “happy coincidence” of this being Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s birthday according to Hindu calendar. The members of the House greeted the PM, whose birthday falls on September 17 by Gregorian calendar, and he accepted the greetings with folded hands.
Official sources claimed that the Bill did not need ratification from states, as mandated otherwise for Constitution amendments, since it had been introduced under specific provisions and did not affect the representation of states in Parliament. During the discussion, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said the decennial census could begin in 2024, and the delimitation would be held subsequently to identify the one-third of seats to be reserved.
Earlier in the day, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) President J P Nadda said the 2029 Lok Sabha elections would be held with a third of seats reserved for women. Calling Congress leader Rahul Gandhi's claim that the government had only three of its 90 secretaries from other backward classes (OBC) misplaced, he clarified that secretaries being empanelled currently were from the 1992 batch; the OBC reservation in central services had not kicked in until 1995.
Drawing the House's attention to the procedures involved in ensuring the implementation of the BIll, Sitharaman said the 42nd Constitution amendment of 1976 froze delimitation until 2000, and the 84th amendment in 2002 until 2026. She said the current law allowed for delimitation to take place after 2026, following the latest decennial census. She said the reservation would apply only after the dissolution of an Assembly or the Lok Sabha and has a 15-year sunset clause.
Leader of the Opposition Mallikarjun Kharge asked the government to specify the month and year when it would be implemented to address misgivings that it was merely a political slogan, a jumla. He said the Bill could be implemented at the earliest by delinking it with the census and delimitation exercise. Congress MPs reiterated their demand for a quota for OBC women in the reservation.
Independent MP Kapil Sibal said the 1972 delimitation took four years and was concluded in 1976, suggesting that a similar timeline, with the delimitation exercise starting in 2026, would delay the implementation beyond 2029. "I want the Prime Minister and the home minister to make a statement in this House. We don't know who will come to power, but they must make a statement that if they don't complete the process by 2029, they will resign. We will know the genuineness of why they have moved it in 2023."
On the government's inability to conduct the 2021 census because of the pandemic, Sibal said the US, England, and China completed the census even during Covid-19. The former Union law minister said the finance commission allocates resources based on population, and if census data is unavailable, the allocations become skewed.
BJP MP Mahesh Jethmalani underscored the necessity of a delimitation, a quasi-judicial process, and said it was possible to implement the one-third reservation by 2029. He said the census could commence in 2024 and could be completed expeditiously, thanks to digitisation, and delimitation could be completed by 2025. The reservation could become a reality by the Assembly elections in 2026 and the Lok Sabha elections in 2029.
Soon after the Lok Sabha assembled earlier in the day, PM Modi described the passage of the Bill as a "golden moment" in India's parliamentary history and thanked the members for their contribution to the "sacred" task. He also thanked the Rajya Sabha MPs at the end of the discussion in the House.