50 percent panchayat seats to be reserved for women


New Delhi : In yet another measure to empower women in public life, the Indian government Thursday decided to reserve 50 percent of seats in all panchayats, or village councils, across the country for women, it was announced here Thursday

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“The cabinet today (Thursday) approved the proposal for moving a bill to amend article 243 d of the constitution for enhancing reservation for women in panchayats at all tiers from one third to at least 50 percent,” Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni said.

“This provision will apply to the total number of seats filled by direct election, offices of chairpersons and seats and offices of chairpersons reserved for scheduled castes and scheduled tribes,” she added while briefing reporters after the cabinet meeting.

The amendment, which is likely to be moved during the winter session of parliament beginning mid-November, will only apply not apply to local bodies in urban areas.

“Urban and local bodies may be covered later,” she added.

The National Commission of Women Thursday welcomed the cabinet’s decision, with its chairperson Girija Vyas saying: “We are delighted.”

President Pratibha Patil, during her address to a joint session of parliament June 4, had declared the government’s intent to provide 50 percent reservation for women in panchayats as women suffer multiple deprivations of class, caste and gender. Enhancing reservation in panchayats would lead to more women entering the public sphere, the president had added.

“Enhancement of reservation for women in panchyats will facilitate more women entering the public sphere and thereby lead to further empowerment of women. It will also make panchayats more inclusive institutions, thereby improving governance and public service delivery,” Soni pointed out.

Presently, 36.87 percent of the nearly three million panchayat members are women. With the amendment, this will rise to more than 1.4 million.

“Having more elected women representatives would benefit the entire population of the states and union territories where panchayati raj is in existence,” Soni said.

All states and union territories to which Part IX of the constitution applies would be covered. The measure would not apply to Nagaland, Meghalaya and Mizoram, the tribal areas of Assam, Tripura and hill areas of Manipur in the northeast.

According to NCW’s Vyas, “women face discrimination from the home to parliament. They have to be made equal partners in decision-making”.

She also admitted that there were women elected to the panchayats who were often proxies for their male relatives.

“It is true that in the beginning there are some women panchayat leaders who are a front for their husbands. They are about 10 percent, but with this new move, even this number will come down,” Vyas maintained.