The women’s reservation bill on Wednesday received the assent of the Lok Sabha, a day after it was tabled by the Union government..
The Constitution (One Hundred and Twenty-eighth Amendment) Bill, 2023 reserves one-third of the seats in Lok Sabha and state Assemblies for women. The provision will also be applicable as a sub-quota within the seats already reserved for the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe categories. Notably, there is no such provision for the Other Backward Classes.
The last time that a bill to reserve parliamentary and Assembly seats for women was introduced was during the tenure of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government in 2008. It was passed in the Rajya Sabha in 2010 but was not taken up in the Lok Sabha.
A key difference between the bills introduced in 2008 and 2023 is that the proposed law tabled on Tuesday makes the implementation of women’s reservation dependent upon a delimitation process, or the redrawing of boundaries to the constituencies.
This condition means that women’s reservation in the Lok Sabha and state Assemblies is unlikely to be implemented at least till the 2029 parliamentary election. Here’s why.
Implementation of women’s reservation
According to the bill, seats for women will be reserved after the completion of the delimitation exercise, which will be based on the first Census conducted after the passage of the bill.
According to Article 82 of the Constitution, which was amended in 2002, the delimitation process can be carried out based on the first Census taken after 2026.
Originally, this would have meant the Census to be carried out in 2031. But since India’s last Census has been delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic, the timeline has shifted.
The last Census in India was conducted in 2011. In 2020, India was set to begin the first phase of the exercise – in which housing data is collected – but the coronavirus pandemic hit. Since then it has been delayed three times and is now likely to be conducted after the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.
The exercise is now anticipated to take place no earlier than 2025. This is based on the condition that the house listing exercise begins in 2024, followed by the actual Census in 2025 and the release of data in 2026 or 2027.
This would then be followed by the delimitation process. This process would require creating a Delimitation Commission, which will need to examine population data and existing constituencies, as well as hold meetings with stakeholders before submitting its report to the government.
If the upcoming Census gets wrapped up within 2026, then the delimitation would occur only post the next Census, following Article 82 of the Constitution. This Census may occur in 2031, if the government decides to stick to the original timeline or in 2036, if the government wishes to resume the ten-year gap between consecutive Censuses.
In this scenario, women’s reservation will only come into effect in the Lok Sabha in 2034 or even 2039.
Only if the pending Census goes on beyond 2026 will women’s reservation under this bill commence before the 2029 Lok Sabha election.