Supreme Court inquires about Centre's delay in reply to plea seeking 33% seats for women in Lok Sabha, State Assemblies

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The petition states that ever since the lapsing of the Bill in 2014, neither has the Bill been made a subject of any discussion in the Lok Sabha nor has any Joint Parliamentary Committee been set up to address the concerns raised against the passing of the Bill.

The Supreme Court on Friday questioned The Central Government on it delay in filing a response to a PIL filed by National Federation of Indian Women (NFIW) seeking a writ of mandamus to the Union of India to place the Constitution (One hundred & Eighth Amendment) Bill, 2008 or the current draft of the Women’s Reservation Bill before both the Houses of the Parliament.

A division bench of Justices Sanjiv Khanna and SVN Bhatti asked ASG KM Nataraj about the government not filing a reply.

"Why are you shying away?” Justice Khanna said.

ASG Nataraj responded saying that the Bill was to be tabled.

"That is separate. Why have you not filed a reply? Say in it if you want to implement it, or not. Such an issue should not be thrown on the backburner. It’s too important....”, Justice Khanna further remarked.

Advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for NFIW, then informed the bench that most political parties had included the introduction of reservation for women in the Parliament and state assemblies in their manifestos.

"Re-list for final hearing/disposal on a non-miscellaneous day in the month of October 2023", the bench went on to order.

The said Bill was introduced as the Constitution (Eighty First Amendment) Bill, 1996, in the Lok Sabha by the United Front Government with the objective to reserve 33% seats in the Lok Sabha and all State Legislative Assemblies for women.

Court has been told that it has been 25 years since the first Women’s Reservation Bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha in 1996 and the same was passed by the Rajya Sabha in 2010 as the Constitution (One Hundred & Eighth Amendment) Bill, 2008, however it lapsed in 2014 after the dissolution of the 15th Lok Sabha.

"...the instant Bill was not placed before the Lok Sabha despite having been passed by the Rajya Sabha in 2010. Such omission by the Respondent of not placing a piece of beneficial legislation before the Lok Sabha after the same has been passed by the Rajya Sabha and not allowing the same to be given due consideration, is absolutely arbitrary." the plea filed under Article 32 adds.

The plea filed by the National Federation of Indian Women (NFIW) further states that the Bill and its primary objectives have been publicly supported by mainstream political parties including the present Government regime.

"The election manifestoes of the political parties such as the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), Indian National Congress (INC), All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), Shiromani Akali Dal, Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPIM), Biju Janata Dal, Samajwadi Party, National Congress Party (NCP) have included the promise of passing the Women’s Reservation Bill. In view thereof it is submitted that while the Bill enjoys the support of a majority of mainstream political parties including the present Government regime still the Bill has not seen the light of the day....", NFIW adds.

The Top Court has been further told that while women represent 50% of the population of India, their representation in the Parliament is only about 14%.

It has been thus submitted that empowerment of women through the Bill, will lead to the overall development of women and will also aid in dealing with the socio-economic as well as political inequality that are both intertwined.

Referring to the present government's 2019 election manifesto, the plea submits that women’s welfare and development was to be accorded a “high priority” at all levels within the Government and BJP had stated that it was committed to 33% reservation in the Parliament and State Assemblies through a constitutional amendment.

Case Title: National Federation of Indian Women vs. Union of India