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Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam: Paving the Way for Women's Participation in Politics

The discussions on increasing women's participation in Indian politics date back to pre-independence times, gaining significant momentum in the 1970s. The concept of women's reservation focuses on providing women with a fair opportunity to engage in critical decision-making processes by reserving specific seats in institutions like Parliament and state legislatures exclusively for them. Notably, the historic Women's Reservation Bill successfully passed through the Rajya Sabha and received presidential approval. This article delves into the Women's Reservation Act, highlighting its key aspects and potential implications.

In the Parliament's Special Session, a proposed legislation to ensure 33% reservation (one-third seats) for women in the Lok Sabha, Delhi Assembly and state Assemblies was cleared by the Union Cabinet and the Rajya Sabha. "The 'Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam' will ensure more women become members of Parliament, assemblies," as stated by PM Modi in his first speech.

Key Points of the Women Reservation Act are as follows:

The Constitution (One Hundred and Eighth Amendment) Bill of 2008 sought to introduce a 33% reservation for women in one-third of the Lok Sabha seats, the Delhi assembly, and state legislative assemblies. The allocation of these reserved seats will be determined by an authority specified by Parliament.

Additionally, one-third of the total seats reserved for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes will be earmarked for women from these groups in both the Lok Sabha and state legislative assemblies. Reserved seats may be assigned to different constituencies within the state or union territory through a rotational system. The reservation of seats for women will be in effect for 15 years from the commencement of this Amendment Act.

Key Concerns and Analysis of this act are as follows:

The reservation policy has sparked divergent opinions, with advocates emphasizing its importance as affirmative action to uplift women's status. Some studies have even shown positive outcomes in terms of women's empowerment and resource allocation due to reservations. Critics, on the other hand, argue that reservation policies do not promote competition based on merit and may perpetuate gender inequality.

Detractors also contend that the reservation policy shifts focus away from broader electoral reform issues such as the criminalization of politics and the need for internal party democracy. Reserving seats in Parliament limits voters' choices to female candidates, which is a point of contention among critics. Experts have proposed alternatives such as party-level reservations and the creation of dual-member constituencies.

Implementing a system of rotating reserved constituencies might reduce the motivation of Members of Parliament (MPs) to work effectively for their constituencies. It's worth noting that a 1996 report suggested the inclusion of reservation for Other Backward Class (OBC) women in the Rajya Sabha and Legislative Councils, but these recommendations have not been incorporated into the Bill.

This Act is expected to take effect after the 2029 elections due to the initial constituency delimitation and census. In India, constituency delimitation involves the process of determining how to divide the country into smaller electoral areas, ensuring that each constituency has approximately the same number of eligible voters. This ensures that each region has a roughly equal number of voters.

For instance, following the population count in 2001, electoral boundaries were adjusted to ensure fairness and equity for all voters. This practice contributes to the fairness of elections and prevents any one area from having undue influence.

As of now, the bill has been enacted into an Act and is likely to be implemented after the first round of constituency delimitation. Even if enacted immediately, this women's reservation policy cannot be put into practice until the 2029 elections. This legislation aims to enhance women's representation in Indian politics by allowing for the rotation of reserved seats for women in the Lok Sabha, State Assemblies, and the Delhi Assembly after each subsequent constituency delimitation exercise, as determined by Parliament.

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