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Quota for women, without unseating men

New Delhi, July 13: Speaker Manohar Joshi has convened a meeting of leaders of major political parties on Tuesday to break the stalemate over the womenís reservation bill.

Among other things, a proposal to double the number of seats under the suggested 33 per cent quota and the amended billís likely passage in the monsoon session ó beginning July 21 ó would be discussed.

The new formula, if implemented, would ensure that men in the Lok Sabha do not lose out as most of them fear.

The original bill stipulates that 33 per cent (that is 181) of seats be reserved for women in Parliament and the legislatures. This would leave the remaining 363 of the 544 Lok Sabha seats for the general category.

The new proposal is to earmark an extra 181 constituencies for women, without upsetting the present status. This means 181 constituencies will be considered double seats, where a voter will have the right to elect two MPs ó one on an open seat and the other reserved for women.

If this proposal gets the nod, the total number of constituencies will remain the same at 544 but the number of Lok Sabha seats will go up to 725 (544+181).

Sources said the Speaker has invited leaders from the BJP, the Congress, the CPM and the Samajwadi Party to discuss the new proposal.

Successive governments since H. D. Deve Gowdaís in 1996 have failed to pass the bill owing to stiff resistance from regional parties such as the Samajwadi Party, the Rashtriya Janata Dal and some BJP allies, including the Janata Dal (United) and the Samata Party.

Backward-caste MPs in the BJP and the Congress, too, are opposed to the bill as it is now.

According to the sources, the BJP, the Congress and even the Samajwadi Party may not be averse to the new proposal. But the CPM, they said, is unlikely to change its stand on the original bill and support any other formula.

Even if the proposal musters adequate support, it will not be easy for the Centre to find enough seats in Parliament. The Lok Sabhaís maximum capacity is 545, including the Speaker.

The central hall could then be converted into the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha shifted to the Lok Sabha enclosure.

A joint session of both Houses could be held in the hall of the new, spacious library building instead of the central hall, the sources said.

After the Centre failed again to enact the law in the budget session, the Speaker had tried his luck by calling an all-party meeting on June 16. He, too, failed to evolve a consensus across the political spectrum.

Sources close to Joshi, however, said all parties were ready to consider an alternative proposal or bill.

The June 16 meeting had thrown up two major suggestions: reducing the quota from 33 per cent to 15-20 per cent or accepting the Election Commission proposal to make it mandatory for political parties to reserve 33 per cent seats for women.

Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav had supported the commissionís proposal, but with a 15 per cent quota. He had claimed support of the RJD and the BJPís allies such as the Dal (U), the Samata Party and the Shiv Sena.

The Congress, however, had preferred the bill in its present form but was willing to back a proposal to increase the seats.

The BJP, too, had iterated support for the bill as it is now but was ready to support any alternative proposal.

The Speaker had earlier asked all parties to submit their suggestions in writing.

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