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Reservation for Women in Local Self Government

  • Published
    20th Sep, 2023

The Central government has introduced the Constitution (One hundred and Twenty-eighth Amendment) Bill, 2023, to reserve 33% seats for women in Lok Sabha and state Legislative Assemblies. The quota will be applicable to the reserved seats for SCs and STs as well.

  • Earlier, the 73rd and 74th Amendment Acts already mandated one-third women's reservation in Panchayati Raj institutions and urban local bodies in India.
  • The Balwant Rai Mehta Committee in 1957 recommended the establishment of village-level agencies to represent community interests and implement government development programs. It called for elected local bodies with devolved resources, power, and authority.
  • In 1977, the Asoka Mehta Committee proposed a transformation of Panchayati Raj into a political institution, citing its failure to fulfill its potential. The committee attributed this failure to an unsympathetic bureaucracy, lack of political will, and unclear roles.
  • Some states, including Karnataka, West Bengal, and Andhra Pradesh, passed new laws based on the Asoka Mehta Committee's recommendations to strengthen Panchayati Raj Institutions.
  • In 1989, the Constitution (Sixty-fourth Amendment) Bill aimed to enhance Panchayati Raj Institutions nationwide but was defeated in the Rajya Sabha during Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi's tenure.
  • Both the Constitution (Seventy-third Amendment) Act, 1992 and the Constitution (Seventy-fourth Amendment) Act, 1992 were passed by Parliament in December 1992, and took effect on April 24, 1993 and June 1, 1993.

The New Amendments for Local Self-Governance

The 73rd and 74th Constitution Amendment Acts established local self-governance in rural and urban India respectively.

  • The two amendments were added to the Constitution’s Part IX, titled “The Panchayats” and Part IXA titled “The Municipalities” respectively.
  • Following the two amendments, Panchayats and municipalities were termed as “institutions of self-government”.
  • The gram sabha became the basic unit of a democratic system in villages.
  • In municipalities, the term “ward committees” was used. These bodies consisted of all adult citizens registered as voters, and the panchayat or municipality was made accountable to them.
  • Direct elections for all three tiers of governance —
  • Gram panchayat at village level,
  • Taluka or block Panchayat at the intermediate level, and
  • Zila panchayat or parishad at district level — were introduced.
  • States with a population of less than 20 lakh were exempted.

Provisions for Women under Part IX:

  • Out of the total 1/3rd seats reserved for women, 33% had to be reserved for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.
  • Importantly, one-third of the seats of office-bearers and chairpersons at all levels had to be reserved for women as well.

Elections and Control:

  • A five-year-tenure was prescribed for each body, and elections to the successor body had to finish before the previous body’s term expired.
  • In case of the body’s dissolution, an election had to be conducted within 6 months
  • There would also be a State Election Commission in each state for superintendence, direction, and control of the electoral rolls for these elections.

Subjects given:

  • Under Article 243G, Panchayats were tasked with preparing plans for economic development and social justice on subjects in the Eleventh Schedule, including agriculture, land, irrigation, animal husbandry, fisheries, cottage industries, and drinking water.
  • Administration: The 74th Amendment also provided for the setting up of District Planning Committees to consolidate the plans prepared by Panchayats and municipalities.

How Women’s position impacted after reservation in Local government?

  • Transformative Role of Women's Reservation: Women, including sarpanches and block pramukhs, have provided reservation for women in local governance had elevated the discourse on women's rights.
  • Empowerment beyond Urban Perspectives: Holding positions in local governance, signing formal documents, making decisions on education, and commanding respect in their families were seen as tangible fruits of the women's rights movement.
  • Long-term Effects of Representation: The inclusion was seen as part of a process to create space and representation for women, offering opportunities similar to those in education, allowing them to thrive and contribute to the public sphere.

Need or inclusion of women in Politics:

  • As per data compiled by the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), in India, women make up 14.44% of the 17th Lok Sabha.
  • As per the latest available report of the Election Commission of India (ECI), women represent 10.5% of all Members of Parliament as of October 2021.
  • For all the state assemblies, female MLAs’ representation stands at an average of 9%.
  • India’s ranking in this regard has fallen over the last few years. It is currently behind Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal.

What are the loopholes in Local government with Women Participation?

Difficulties faced by women to represent in Panchayat Raj institutions are-

  • Political intervention present in the Panchayats
  • Women are made to act as proxies for men
  • Husband takes the intervention of the elected women and operates on her behalf
  • Women in rural areas lack the awareness of the political; rights they possess
  • All the negative public opinions
  • Lack of education of women in the rural areas
  • Lack of training courses for the women
  • Violence against women to suppress them from acting their rights

How can Women be more Effectively Represented in Politics?

  • Reservation of Seats: One of the most effective ways to increase women's representation in politics is to reserve seats for women in legislative bodies.
    • This has been implemented in some states like Bihar, Odisha, and West Bengal, where a certain percentage of seats are reserved for women in local bodies.
  • Political Parties should ensure Women Representation: Political parties should ensure that women are given adequate representation in candidate selection for elections.
    • They should make an effort to recruit women candidates and give them priority in winnable seats.
  • Education and Training: Education and training programs can be conducted to empower women to participate in politics.
    • This will help women to build their confidence and skill set, and understands the complexities of politics.
  • Address Social and Cultural Barriers: Women's effective representation in politics can be hindered by social and cultural barriers such as patriarchy and gender norms.
    • These issues should be addressed through campaigns, education and awareness programs, and social reform initiatives like Beti Bachao Beti Padhao Scheme, Sukanya Samriddhi Yojana.
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