The government on Tuesday (September 19) introduced the Constitution 128th Amendment Bill, 2023 to reserve 33% seats for women in the Lok Sabha and state assemblies. This quota will also apply to seats reserved for SC and ST.
The law to reserve seats for women in Parliament and Assemblies was pending since the mid-90s. The first attempt to reserve seats for women in Parliament was made by the HD Deve Gowda-led government. Ramakant D Khalap, Minister of State for Law in the Deve Gowda government, introduced the Women’s Reservation Bill in Parliament on September 12, 1996.
However, long before this effort of the United Front Government, two important amendments in the Constitution had implemented the system of reservation for women in rural and urban local bodies.
73rd and 74th amendment of the constitution
The government led by Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao had made the 73rd and 74th amendments to the Constitution. Through this Amendment Act, one-third of the seats in Panchayati Raj institutions were reserved for women. The same arrangement was made in urban local bodies also.
The 73rd and 74th Amendment Acts of the Constitution were both passed by the Parliament in December 1992. Both the amendments came into force on 24 April 1993 and 1 June 1993 respectively.
Background of the amendment
In 1957, the Balwantrai Mehta Committee recommended that an agency should be established at the village level, which would represent the interests of the village community and carry out the development programs of the government. The committee suggested early establishment of elected local bodies and transfer of necessary resources, power and authority to them.
In 1977, the Ashok Mehta Committee suggested converting the concept of Panchayati Raj into a political institution. The committee found that Panchayati Raj institutions have failed to deliver on their promises and suggested measures to strengthen the system. The Committee identified lack of political will and ambiguity in the role of the institution as reasons for the institution’s weakness.
Karnataka, West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh passed new laws based on the Ashok Mehta Committee report. At the end of the tenure of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1989, an attempt was made to strengthen Panchayati Raj institutions across the country through the 64th Amendment Bill of the Constitution, but this attempt failed in the Rajya Sabha.
What changed after the constitutional amendment?
The 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendment Acts established local self-government in rural and urban India respectively. After the amendments, Panchayats and Municipalities were called ‘self-governing institutions’. Gram Sabha became the basic unit of democratic system in the villages. The Panchayat or Municipality was made accountable to the voters.
Direct elections were introduced for all three levels of governance – Gram Panchayat at the village level, Taluka or Block Panchayat at the intermediate level and Zilla Panchayat or Zilla Parishad at the district level.
Of the total 1/3 seats reserved for women, 33% were reserved for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. Importantly, one-third of the seats of office-bearers and presidents at all levels also became reserved for women.
A tenure of five years was fixed for each body. In case of dissolution of the body, it was made mandatory to hold elections within 6 months.
A State Election Commission was also formed in each state for these elections. Under Article 243G, Panchayats were entrusted with the task of preparing plans for economic development and social justice on subjects of the Eleventh Schedule including agriculture, land, irrigation, animal husbandry, fisheries, cottage industries and drinking water.
The 74th Amendment also made a provision for the establishment of District Planning Committees to strengthen the plans prepared by Panchayats and Municipalities.