Women's reservation bill: SC grants Centre two weeks to respond to Congress leader's plea

Justice Sanjiv Khanna says the court cannot pass a direction and this stage and asked the petitioner to wait for the Centre's reply

The Supreme Court (photo: IANS)
The Supreme Court (photo: IANS)


The Supreme Court on Monday asked the Centre to respond within two weeks to a plea by a Congress leader seeking immediate implementation of the Nari Shakti Vandan Act 2023 so that one-third of the seats in the Lok Sabha and state assemblies can be reserved for women before the general elections due this year.

A bench of justices Sanjiv Khanna and Dipankar Datta allowed the Centre time after its advocate Kanu Agrawal said the government needs some time to file a comprehensive reply.

Senior advocate Vikas Singh, appearing for petitioner Jaya Thakur, said the court should issue a direction to ensure that the law can be implemented before the general elections. Justice Khanna said the court cannot pass a direction and this stage and asked Singh to wait for the Centre's reply.

When advocate Prashant Bhushan said he wanted to file a petition on the issue, the bench told him his plea, being a fresh matter, can only be assigned to a bench by Chief Justice D.Y. Chandrachud.

It posted the matter for further hearing after three weeks. On 16 January, the top court had deferred the hearing of the plea until 22 January after counsel who were to appear on the Centre's behalf were not available.

The SC had said on 3 November 2023 it would be "very difficult" for the court to strike down a part of the women's reservation law that says it will come into effect after the Census.

On 21 September 2023, the watershed bill to reserve one-third of the seats in the Lok Sabha and state assemblies for women received the parliamentary nod. The Lok Sabha passed the Constitution amendment bill with near unanimity, while the Rajya Sabha cleared it unanimously.

The law will take some time before it is implemented as the next census and the subsequent delimitation exercise for redrawing the boundaries of Lok Sabha and assembly constituencies will help identify the seats to be reserved for women.

The quota for women in the Lok Sabha and state assemblies will continue for 15 years. Parliament can later extend the duration of the quota for women. While there is quota within quota for Scheduled Caste (SC) and Scheduled Tribe (ST) women, the opposition had demanded that the benefit be extended to Other Backward Classes, too.

Data shows that women MPs account only for about 15 per cent of the Lok Sabha's strength, while their representation is below 10 per cent in many state assemblies.

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