The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Bigger Parliament push for women

New Delhi, Aug. 5: The United Progressive Alliance today tried to build consensus on a 33 per cent women’s quota in the Lok Sabha by suggesting that seats in the House be increased from 545 to 775.

But this plan that aims to please everybody ' by getting more women into Parliament while ensuring the men don’t lose out ' found few takers other than the BJP.

The government had got its arithmetic right. The women’s reservation bill sets aside a third of state and central legislature seats for women. In a 775-seat Lok Sabha, 258 would be thus reserved leaving 517 open for men.

Armed with this argument, home minister Shivraj Patil and defence minister Pranab Mukherjee did the rounds of the major parties this morning, meeting leaders. They presented the new draft proposing a bigger Parliament that will have a quota for women but will not “hurt” the male MPs’ interests.

The Left pointed out the flaw in the logic: if the plan were to be put into effect, it would mean the delimitation (redrawing of constituencies) process ' which has progressed a great deal ' will have to start all over again.

“Increasing the size of Parliament will lead to a lot of problems. It will derail the ongoing process of delimitation of constituencies,” said CPM member Nilotpal Basu.

Congress spokesperson Anand Sharma played it safe. “We have today re-initiated the consultation process (to reach a consensus on the proposal),” he said.

Support came only from the main Opposition party.

“We are ready to give the UPA government a blank cheque on the bill,” BJP leader Sushma Swaraj said. “We will support the bill in whatever form it comes.”

The Constitution now bars any expansion of the House. Leaders said Parliament needs to pass a Constitution amendment bill to increase the Lok Sabha’s size. The new draft rules out dual candidature and says there can be only one MP for one seat.

Patil and Mukherjee justified the proposal to expand Parliament. The Union home minister said there has been a “phenomenal” population rise in several constituencies, with the voter strength going up to 20-25 lakh. This, he argued, called for the creation of new constituencies.

Sources say the Centre has been forced to resume its efforts to push through the reservation bill following petitions from women’s organisations and pressure from Congress president and ruling alliance chairperson Sonia Gandhi. The coalition’s common minimum programme, too, is committed to the quota. Yet there are few supporters of the bill in the Congress as in many other parties.

The bill is stuck on the issue of creating a quota for backward caste and Muslim women within the 33 per cent quota. A section of the BJP led by Uma Bharti, the Samajwadi Party and the Rashtriya Janata Dal have refused to back the legislation unless it creates this sub-quota.

But Basu said: “We want the bill in its original form ' the form in which the United Front government had introduced it.”

The original bill provided for no sub-quotas.

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