NEW DELHI: Billed as a landmark decision, India’s parliament has passed legislation that guarantees parliamentary seats for women lawmakers, although it is expected to take years before the law comes into force.
The Lok Sabha, or the lower house of India’s parliament, approved the law on Wednesday, and the upper house, or the Rajya Sabha, passed it unanimously on Thursday evening — more than two decades after a parliamentary proposal was submitted to give greater representation to women.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi took to social media after the passage of the bill and welcomed it as “a defining moment” in India’s democratic journey.
“With the passage of the Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam (Women’s Empowerment Reservation Bill) in Parliament, we usher in an era of stronger representation and empowerment for the women of India,” he said. “This is not merely legislation; it is a tribute to the countless women who have made our nation.”
The law reserves a third of seats for women in the lower house of parliament and state assemblies. It does not apply to the upper house of Parliament, as its members are chosen by state legislatures.
However, the new legislation will only come into effect after India conducts a census and then redraws the boundaries of parliamentary constituencies. No date has yet been announced for completing the census that was scheduled to be held in 2021 but was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The amendment provides that reservation will be implemented after new seats are created by delimitation after a fresh census,” Sanjay Hegde, constitutional lawyer from the Supreme Court, told Arab News on Friday.
“The census could not be done in 2021 due to COVID and may be done in 2025 or later. Compiled data may be available much later, after the census, and based on such data fresh delimitation has to be worked out. If the census is postponed, the entire cycle can be kicked further down the road to take effect in 2029 or 2034 polls or even later.”
The new law was welcomed by several women activists but the absence of a definite timeline made them wonder about the level of commitment to greater female representation in parliament.
“They passed it with the caveat that they can’t be implemented without the census and without the delimitation,” said Maimoon Mollah, president of the All India Democratic Women’s Association, the largest women’s organization in India.
“We don’t know when that is going to happen.”
For Kavita Krishnan, a Delhi-based activist, the most disappointing part was that the rule would not apply in next year’s polls.
“In the next election there is not going to be any women reservation,” she said.
“Basically, they are indefinitely postponing this thing.”