The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Crossfire over women’s bill

New Delhi, July 15: The ruling party and the Opposition began talking at cross purposes even before fresh proposals for the women’s reservation bill could be put down on paper.

The BJP claimed a “near-consensus” has been reached between the anti- and pro-reservation lobbies on the government’s new proposals put forward at a meeting called by Lok Sabha Speaker Manohar Joshi today. The meeting was attended by representatives of the BJP, the Congress, the CPM and the Samajwadi Party.

The Opposition, however, debunked the claim and asked the government to first put its proposals in the form of amendments.

The new suggestions include double-member constituencies and an increase in the number of Lok Sabha seats. Double-member constituencies will give voters the right to elect two MPs for one constituency — one on an open seat and the other on a seat reserved for women. This will mean an additional 181 seats in the 544-member Lok Sabha, in accordance with the stipulated 33 per cent reservation, taking the total seats to 725.

Somnath Chatterjee of the CPM debunked BJP leader V.K. Malhotra’s claims of a consensus.

“I never agreed on behalf of my party to any such alternative proposal. It was suggested at the meeting that if the government had any alternative proposal, it should put them in the form of amendments, which could be considered then,” the Lok Sabha member said. Chatterjee stressed that “there is no question of accepting any proposal at the present stage”.

One proposal put forward at the meeting, Chatterjee said, was reducing the reservation quota from 33 to 20 per cent and then letting the Election Commission formalise the matter. “Our party’s stand is very clear that the bill should be passed in its present form,” he said.

The CPM leader charged the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government with subterfuge. “It is subterfuge on the part of the BJP-led NDA government to say that it will not bring the bill in Parliament until a consensus is arrived at. BJP and NDA leaders know that their own members will oppose the bill.”

Chatterjee said the credibility of Parliament as an institution has been seriously called into question because of the “delay and procrastination” on the part of the ruling party.

Congress MP Shivraj Patil said his party was against any dilution of the bill, while the Lok Sabha Speaker said a draft would be formulated on the new suggestions and then sent to the Prime Minister for consideration.

Samajwadi leader Mulayam Singh Yadav gave no indication of a breakthrough in the stalemate over the bill. He said the meeting took no decision and more such meetings will have to take place.

With the monsoon session of Parliament scheduled to begin on July 21, the ruling BJP is keen to be perceived as going through the motions of thrashing out a consensus on the bill.

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