The Women's Reservation Bill was passed in Lok Sabha on Wednesday with near unanimity, and is expected to smoothly clear Rajya Sabha as well on Thursday. Union Home Minister Amit Shah confirmed in the parliament that the Bill will only come into force after 2029, after a delimitation exercise is conducted.
While opposition parties largely lent support to the Bill, they expressed apprehensions over the clause that says that the reservation will come into effect only after a census and delimitation exercise is conducted. During the debate on Wednesday, opposition leaders said that since dates for both these exercises are indeterminate, women will have to face yet another delay in implementation of reservation.
What is the condition for the implementation of the Bill?
The bill includes a provision that the new law once enacted will come into force only after a fresh census and delimitation, meaning that the women's reservation is unlikely to be in effect in the 2024 Lok Sabha election.
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.
When will the Bill be implemented?
The last Census in India was conducted in 2011. The next decadal census was to be conducted in 2021, but the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the timeline of the exercise. The exercise has now been pushed eight times with the official rationale of the pandemic. The 16th census is expected to be conducted in two phases: a house listing phase and a population enumeration phase.
While there is no confirmation as to when the next census will take place, political leaders and experts have said that it will not likely be conducted before 2025 -- this is if the house listing phase takes place after the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. If it is conducted in 2025, then the results are likely to be released only in 2026 or 2027.
Article 82 of the Constitution provides for the readjustment of the constituencies (number and boundaries) of Lok Sabha and State Assemblies after every Census. However, the 42nd Amendment froze this delimitation exercise until the first Census after 2000 is published. In 2001, the government further extended this freeze for 25 years. So now, delimitation would happen on the results of the first Census after 2026.
As per this timeline, if the 16th census were to wrap up by 2026, then the delimitation would occur only post the next Census in 2036, if it follows the decadal Census concept. In such a scenario, the women’s reservation may only kick in in the Lok Sabha in 2039.
What did Home Minister Amit Shah say?
Home Minister Amit Shah asserted on Wednesday that census and delimitation will begin soon after the 2024 Lok Sabha polls. He indicated that reservation for women will come into force after the 2029 Lok Sabha polls as he sought the support from the bill's critics in the House, saying the law will not come into force any earlier if they do not back the proposed legislation.
In a dig at the opposition over many of its members' demand for an immediate rollout of the women's quota, he said if constituencies like Wayanad, represented by Gandhi, and Hyderabad, represented by Asaduddin Owaisi, come under the reserved category in any exercise taken by the government, then the Modi dispensation will be accused of doing politics. The delimitation commission, which is headed by a retired Supreme Court judge, will undertake this exercise in an open and transparent way, he said.