he Women’s Reservation Bill is currently caught in a deadly stalemate. Nevertheless, the idea of affirmative action to enhance the participation of women in our legislatures is finally getting to be debated in terms of exploring various options and alternatives which will avoid the pitfalls of a lottery based, territorially reserved, rotating quota of seats for women. Over the last four years, MANUSHI has submitted three different options: a) Multi seat constituencies, b) Dual member constituencies, c) Party based quotas in ticket allocation (MANUSHI 96, 97, 107, 116). Based on the feedback received, we prepared a comprehensive Alternative Women’s Reservation Bill which was introduced in MANUSHI 116. This has been endorsed by numerous women’s organisations, activists and other concerned people, and has also led to widespread debate on the subject all over the country. Now we present another proposal by Mukesh Dalal which he claims will be far more effective than any other suggested so far. Many of our readers are likely to find it too complicated and problematic in actual implementation. Since we think it is important to keep our minds open and engage seriously with various suggestions being made for improving the Bill, we invite our readers to respond to his proposition. -Editor
espite several years of national consensuson women’s reservation, we have miserably failed to put it into law. I will now present a novel proposal for women’s reservation that is based on two key ideas. The first key idea is to create some extra seats that are not assigned to any specific constituency. These “quota seats” will be filled only when there is a need to increase women’s representation, that is, whenever the number of women “elected directly” falls below the desired “women’s quota”. The second key idea is that women candidates who were closest to victory (defined shortly) in constituencies not already represented by women will then be “elected by quota” to fill the appropriate quota seats. For all purposes, women elected by quota will be treated on par with men and women who are elected directly. For example, as explained in Diagram I, suppose it is decided to create 50 quota seats in the Lok Sabha and set the women’s quota at 181, 28
which is one-third of 543, the total number of Lok Sabha seats, we can envisage three different scenarios as illustrated below, depending on the number of women getting directly elected: Case 1: Only 44 women get directly elected, causing a shortfall of 137 from the women’s quota of 181. In this case, all the 50 quota seats will be filled, by increasing the strength of the house to 595, including two nominated seats. Case 2: 150 women get directly elected, causing a shortfall of only 31 from the women’s quota. In this case, only 31 quota seats will be filled, increasing the strength of the house to 576. Case 3: 200 women get directly elected, exceeding the women’s quota. In this case, no quota seat will be filled, keeping the strength of the house to 545. Although “closest to victory” may be defined in several ways, the most reasonable is to use the fractional margin of loss. For example, a
woman losing by 5,000 votes out of 200,000 valid votes will be chosen over a woman from another constituency losing by 4,000 votes out of 150,000 valid votes. This “normalization” by total votes ensures that all constituencies are treated fairly, irrespective of their size. Women closest to victory are those who are most likely to be directly elected in the next elections. It may be noted that using this criterion is now extremely easy because of the advances in information technologies. Some obvious advantages of my proposal, in contrast to the previous proposals, are as follows: It will achieve reservation for women without discriminating against any men in any constituency. Men will not be undemocratically and unfairly prohibited to contest from...