The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Women Bill false dawn

New Delhi, May 6: The women’s reservation Bill appears headed for the cold storage, with the Centre today washing its hands of it.

Parliamentary affairs minister Sushma Swaraj said the government would make no further effort to evolve a consensus on the Bill — which lays down 33 per cent reservation for women in Parliament and Assemblies — after an attempt to push it in the Lok Sabha was aborted.

The Bill’s opponents — the Samajwadi Party, the Rashtriya Janata Dal and BJP allies Shiv Sena, Janata Dal (U) and Samata Party — raised a furore, forcing its postponement. “I left no stone unturned, but if this is the outcome, if we are going to see this kind of beimani (deceit), there’s no point,” Swaraj said later.

The Prime Minister would call no more meetings, she said, adding that it was unlikely the Bill would be passed without a sub-quota for backward and minority community women. “If the Speaker wants to call a meeting, he is free to do it.”

This morning, Swaraj spoke to Samata and Dal ministers George Fernandes, Nitish Kumar and Sharad Yadav, who want a quota for backward women. “They said they were ready for a discussion,” she said. “Nitish,” she added, “said ‘I’d like to speak early and I will make my points’.”

Swaraj blamed the fiasco on the “duplicity” of those against the Bill. “The PM had said while he respected their right to dissent, they should at least allow a discussion. I was sure that the least they would allow is a discussion,” she said.

Indications are that the political establishment will settle for the Election Commission’s proposal, making it mandatory for all parties to reserve seats for women on a state-wise basis.

Asked why the Bill was brought at the fag end of the session, a defensive Swaraj said: “The Finance Bill was our top priority until April 30. Anything else could only come up later.”

On why it could not have been passed with the comfortable majority offered by the BJP, the Congress and the Left, she said: “When a vocal section is opposed, we can’t ignore them.”

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