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50% quota for women in all tiers of panchayati raj

A proposed amendment seeks to increase reservation for women in the number of seats to be filled by direct election for the office of chairperson, right from the panchayat to the panchayat samiti and the zilla parishad

The Indian government has raised reservations for women in all tiers of the panchayati raj system from 33 to at least 50%. The Union Cabinet, presided over by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, cleared a proposal to amend Article 243(D) of the Constitution for this purpose on August 27, 2009.  

Minister for Panchayati Raj C P Joshi, who has been directed to draft a Bill to include the amendment, said the Bill that encouraged greater participation of women in the public sphere, would be moved in the next session of Parliament. The urban development ministry is expected to initiate a similar proposal soon, to enhance women’s representation in urban local bodies. 

With respect to scheduled castes and scheduled tribes too, women’s reservation will be enhanced to a minimum of 50% within the quota reserved for these two categories. Since there is no reservation at the central level for other backward classes, it will be up to state governments to increase the quota for women in this segment, Joshi clarified.  

The panchayati raj system, being a state subject, makes it the prerogative of states, where the quota for women is less than 50%, to formulate their own rules to implement the provision once it is made part of the Constitution.  

Apart from Bihar, which was the first state to offer 50% reservation for women in panchayats, in 2005, three states that are already implementing gender equality at the panchayat level are Uttarakhand (where the quota of seats for women is a whopping 55%), Himachal Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh.  

Rajasthan has also announced 50% reservation, to be implemented in the next panchayat election in early 2010. Kerala recently announced 50% reservation for women in panchayats and other local bodies; Maharashtra followed.  

In most other states, women’s representation is 36.87% of the 28.18 lakh elected panchayat representatives. The number of women representatives will go up to over 14 lakh after the proposed constitutional amendment. When provided for, the law will be applicable in all states and union territories except for Nagaland, Meghalaya and Mizoram, tribal regions of Assam and Tripura, and the hill areas of Manipur. 

Welcoming the move towards the empowerment of women at the grassroots, politician and activist Brinda Karat demanded that the government show the same seriousness towards the Women’s Reservation Bill.  

Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni called it “a pathbreaking decision”. Neeraja Chandroke of the organisation Stree Sakthi said: “This is a good move, provided male relatives of these women representatives don’t indulge in backseat driving.” 

Source: The Hindu, August 28, 2009
            The Telegraph, August 28, 2009
           The Economic Times, August 28, 2009