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2029, 2034, Or 2039? When Will Women's Reservation Bill Be Really Implemented?

There are some crucial steps that need to be ticked before the Women's Reservation Bill is enforced. What are they?

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"It is safe to say that one cannot happen without the other – that is, the census and the Women's Reservation Bill. This is there in the spirit of the bill itself," said Yashaswini Basu, a Bengaluru-based lawyer.

As the implementation of the Women's Reservation Bill, which was passed in the Lok Sabha on Wednesday, 20 September with majority votes, is contingent upon the fresh census and delimitation, The Quint reached out to experts for a guesstimate on when the bill will actually come into force.

The Constitution (One Hundred and Twenty-eighth Amendment) Bill 2023, known colloquially as the Women's Reservation Bill, which promises 33 percent seat reservation for women in the Lok Sabha and state Assemblies, states:

“Notwithstanding anything in the foregoing provision of this Part or Part VIII, the provisions of the Constitution relating to the reservation of seats for women in the House of People...shall come into effect after an exercise of delimitation is undertaken for this purpose after the relevant figures for the first census taken after the commencement of The Constitution (One Hundred and Twenty-eighth Amendment) Bill 2023 have been published..."
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MANDATORY MILESTONE: THE CENSUS & DELIMITATION

Once the bill clears both houses of the Parliament, it will be sent for President Droupdi Murmu's assent. However, will come into force, "following the first census after the bill is published." Based on this fresh census the delimitation will take place, and based on this delimitation, the constituencies for women will be chosen," Rohin Bhatt, who practises constitutional law, and is a human rights litigator, explained.

Delimitation refers to the change in the total number of Parliamentary and Assembly seats, based on population. For context, India's Lok Sabha seats increased from 494 to 522 after the 1961 census, and from 522 to 543 after the 1971 census.

Speaking to The Quint, Basu added:

"One has to remember that this bill, in a different form, had reached this stage at least twice before but due to unforeseen situations, had to be let go. So as a result of this, it is worrying to see how this (census and delimitation mandate) will play out. As per the bill, it is indispensable for the census and the delimitation process to take place."

This means that the chances of the bill being effectively operationalised before the 2029 elections are dim, as pointed Opposition leaders, too.

"The NCP [Nationalist Congress Party] stands firmly in its (Women's Reservation Bill) support. However, this is a post-dated cheque, because neither Census nor delimitation has been done. So, it might be implemented in 2029," NCP leader Supriya Sule told news agency PTI, after the bill was passed in the Lok Sabha.

Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader Manoj Kumar Jha also told PTI: "It is not yet clear if the Women's Reservation Bill will be implemented in 2029 or 2034. This is a post-dated commitment by the government."

But is 2029 the end game? Not really – as there is no clarity on when the census will actually take place.
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THE DECIDING FACTOR: WHEN WILL THE CENSUS TAKE PLACE?

The last census in India was conducted in 2011 – with the next one scheduled to take place in 2021. But the pandemic disrupted this timeline. The government has since then pushed it by at least eight times, with the official reason being cited as the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We are the only country that has not carried out the decadal census. We still do not know whether it will happen in 2031. The enforcement of this bill is contingent upon a future event which may not happen at all for all we know," Bhatt told The Quint.

But when the census takes place plays a crucial role in when the bill is implemented. Why? According to Article 82 of the Constitution, which was amended in 2002, the delimitation process can be carried out based on the first census taken after 2026. But this was assuming that there would be a decadal census in 2021, and the delimitation would happen after the 2031 census.

To give a sample timeline for perspective:

  • 2024: Post elections, house listing is carried out, a crucial process for census.

  • 2025: Census takes place.

  • 2026-2027: Census is published.

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But as per this timeline, there is no clarity on whether the next decadal census will now occur in 2036 – following which the delimitation may take place.

This could mean that the Women's Reservation Bill is well not implemented before 2039.

"Article 82 (amended in 2001) virtually bars delimitation prior to the first census figures post 2026. That can only be 2031. Most observers don't remember that the Delimitation Commission takes 3 to 4 years (the last one took 5 years) to give its final report. Besides, the coming delimitation can be very contentious, given the population ratio changes. So we are looking at a report around 2037 or so, that can only be implemented in 2039," Yogendra Yadav wrote on X (formerly Twitter).
https://x.com/_YogendraYadav/status/1704350382653354011?s=20
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NEXT HURDLE: HOW WILL CONSTITUENCIES BE CHOSEN?

The bill also does not mention, specify or define how these 1/3rd seats, which are to be reserved for women, will be chosen.

"This is again dependent on delimitation, we cannot really predict it. 33 percent, basically 1/3rd number is the number we have to go with now. So if it is 181/543, as per the current number, it will be 1/3rd of the 800-or-so-odd seats that will make up the Lok Sabha after the delimitation process is carried out," Basu told The Quint.

While the bill introduced by UPA-II also did not mention how these constituencies would be chosen, the government had proposed a system of draws. This will ensure that the same seat is not reserved for more than three consecutive elections, the government had said.

So, what happens if the government changes in the meantime?

"Once the bill has passed Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha, and the president's assent – it is the law. But for all other purposes, it is not enforced until there is a gazette notification. Once a bill commences, the next census after that, whenever it takes place – whenever it may be, will it come into effect. There is no question of lapsing," Bhatt said.

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