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Women quota drifts from meet to meet

New Delhi, June 16: Unanimity once again eluded the latest attempt to thrash out a solution to the ill-fated women’s reservation Bill — helmed this time by Speaker Manohar Joshi.

After the Centre nearly washed its hands of the issue following the Budget session fiasco, Joshi had called an all-party meeting today to evolve a consensus on 33 per cent reservation for women in Parliament and state legislatures.

Though unanimity was elusive, all parties were ready to consider an alternative proposal or Bill.

Joshi has now decided to convene another meeting of five major parties before Parliament’s monsoon session begins in mid-July. He will also consult the Prime Minister and the leader of the Opposition.

Today’s three-hour meeting threw up two major suggestions: reducing the quota from 33 per cent to 15-20 per cent, or accepting the Election Commission proposal of political parties reserving 33 per cent seats for women.

Other suggestions that came up included doubling of seats within the 33 per cent quota so that a male candidate, apart from a woman candidate, can also contest from the same constituency. Another was increasing Lok Sabha seats from the present 544 to 750 or 790.

Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav said he favoured the commission proposal, though at 15 per cent. He also claimed the support of the Rashtriya Janata Dal and of BJP allies such as the Janata Dal (United), Samata Party and Shiv Sena.

The Sena’s Chandrakant Khaire said they favoured a party-enforced quota. Telugu Desam Party’s K. Yerran Naidu supported reservation for women in any form.

The Samajwadi, RJD and Muslim League, however, also voiced their old demand of quotas for Other Backward Classes and minorities within the 33 per cent.

Preferring the Bill as it is, the Congress was ready, however, to back a legislation on increasing the seats or doubling reservation within the 33 per cent quota. The party opposed seat rotation as envisaged in the Bill.

The BJP, too, iterated support for the Bill as it is, but expressed readiness to support an alternative proposal.

Favouring the passage of the Bill in its present form, CPM’s Somnath Chatterjee said “no workable solution was found” at the meeting. But his party was willing to support an alternative Bill if the basic issue was not diluted.

To break the impasse, Joshi suggested that if only 10 per cent won among the 33 per cent, respective parties could nominate the remainder.

Today’s meeting follows the stalling of the Bill for a fourth time in the Lok Sabha during the Budget session, amid support from the BJP, the Congress and the Left. The Centre then threw the ball in the Speaker’s court.

Joshi later said: “We have come closer (to an agreement). It is not that total unanimity has come in today’s meeting. (But) I am happy most political parties are open on the issue of women’s reservation.” He asked all parties to give suggestions in writing.

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