Because of the interest in the Women’s Reservation Bill and the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill, we’ve received a number of queries about the process by which a bill becomes an Act. We have a more comprehensive primer on the subject, but here’s the process in brief: •The ministry drafts a text of the proposed law, which is called a ‘Bill’, after calling comments from other ministries, and even from the public. The draft is revised to incorporate such inputs and is then vetted by the Law Ministry. It is then presented to the Cabinet for approval. •After the Cabinet approves the Bill, it is introduced in Parliament. In Parliament, it goes through three Readings in both Houses. • During the First Reading the Bill is introduced. The introduction of a Bill may be opposed and the matter may be put to a vote in the House. •After a Bill has been introduced, the Bill may be referred to the concerned Departmentally Related Standing Committee for examination. •The Standing Committee considers the broad objectives and the specific clauses of the Bill referred to it and may invite public comments on a Bill. It then submits its recommendations in the form of a report to Parliament. •In the Second Reading (Consideration), the Bill is scrutinized thoroughly. Each clause of the Bill is discussed and may be accepted, amended or rejected. The government, or any MP, may introduce amendments to the Bill. However, the government is not bound to accept the Committee’s recommendations. •During the Third Reading (Passing), the House votes on the redrafted Bill. •If the Bill is passed in one House, it is then sent to the other House, where it goes through the second and third readings. •After both Houses of Parliament pass a Bill, it is presented to the President for assent. He/She has the right to seek information and clarification about the Bill, and may return it to Parliament for reconsideration. (If both Houses pass the Bill again, the President has to assent) • After the President gives assent, the Bill is notified as an Act.
The Lok Sabha adjourns today for a three-week recess. The Rajya Sabha is scheduled to adjourned on March 18. Here’s a brief look at the activity of Parliament this session (data till March 15): Productive Hours: The session has witnessed more than its fair share of disruptions. In the 14 sitting days, over 22 hours has been lost to interruptions in the Lok Sabha and over 26 hours in the Rajya Sabha. The number of productive hours so far is 53 and 50 hours in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha respectively. [Click here to compare with previous sessions.] The session began with protests by the Opposition, putting pressure on the Government to schedule a debate on price rise. After the presentation of the Budget, the protests revolved around the petroleum price hike. The disruptions in the Rajya Sabha were on account of the Women’s Reservation Bill, which resulted in the suspension of seven MPs. On March 9 the Rajya Sabha was adjourned five times, before the passage of the Bill. Legislative business: This session, the government had listed 63 Bills for introduction, 16 pending Bills for consideration and passing and 10 pending Bills for consideration and passing if their Standing Committee reports are submitted. Other than financial business transacted, which includes passage of Demand for Grants and Appropriation Bills, the only legislation that has been passed so far is the Women’s Reservation Bill in the Rajya Sabha. The Lok Sabha also has passed one Bill that replaces an Ordinance - the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Bill. In the 14 sitting days, the House has spent 6 hours on legislative business. Question Hour: Another important aspect of parliamentary business is the Question Hour. Interestingly, the Lok Sabha rules were amended before the start of this session to ensure that the absence of MPs does not result in the collapse of Question Hour. However, the amount of time spent on questions in both Houses this session has remained under 5 hours.
There have been articles in the media on the future passage of the Women's Reservation Bill stating that the Bill will have to be ratified by state legislatures before it is signed into law by the President. Our analysis indicates that ratification by state legislatures is not required. We state the reasons below: This Bill amends the Constitution. It (a) amends Article 239AA, Article 331, and Article 333, and (b) inserts Article 330A, Article 332A, and Article 334A. In doing so the Bill:
- Seeks to reserve one-third of all seats for women in the Lok Sabha and the state legislative assemblies;
- One third of the total number of seats reserved for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes shall be reserved for women of those groups in the Lok Sabha and the legislative assemblies;
- Reserved seats may be allotted by rotation to different constituencies.
Article 368 regulates the procedure for amending the Constitution. It states that the ratification of the state legislatures to a constitutional amendment is required in the following cases: a. If there is a change in the provisions regarding elections to the post of the President of India. b. If there is a change in the extent of the executive power of the centre or the state governments. c. If there is any change in the provisions regarding the Union judiciary or the High Courts. d. If the distribution of legislative powers between the centre and the states is affected. e. If any of the Lists in the Seventh Schedule is affected. f. If the representation of the states in the Rajya Sabha is changed. g. Lastly, if Article 368 itself is amended. None of these provisions are attracted in the case of the Women's Reservation Bill. The Parliament recently extended the reservation of seats for SCs, STs and Anglo-Indians in Lok Sabha and Legislative Assemblies by another ten years. Article 334 was amended to state that such reservation "will cease to have effect on the expiration of a period of seventy years from the commencement of the Constitution." The 109th Amendment Bill was passed by both Houses of Parliament and did not require the ratification of the states before being signed into law by the President. It follows that if Bills amending provisions for reserving seats for SCs and STs don't need ratification by state legislatures, a bill reserving seats for women does not need ratification either. Thus Article 368 very clearly lays down situations in which state legislatures have to ratify a piece of legislation before it can receive the assent of the President.
Speaker Meira Kumar has urged political parties to arrive at a consensus on the women’s reservation bill. The 2008 Bill has the following main features. 1. It reserves one-third of all seats in Lok Sabha and Legislative Assemblies within each state for women. 2. There is quota-within-quota for SCs, STs and Anglo-Indians. 3. The reserved seats will be rotated after each general elections – thus after a cycle of three elections, all constituencies would have been reserved once. This reservation will be operational for 15 years. This Bill has had a chequered history. A similar Bill was introduced in 1996, 1998 and 1999 – all of which lapsed after the dissolution of the respective Lok Sabhas. A Joint Parliamentary Committee chaired by Geeta Mukherjee examined the 1996 Bill and made seven recommendations. Five of these have been included in the latest 2008 Bill. These are (i) reservation for a period of 15 years; (ii) including sub-reservation for Anglo Indians; (iii) including reservation in cases where the state has less than three seats in Lok Sabha (or less than three seats for SCs/STs); (iv) including reservation for the Delhi assembly; and (v) changing “not less than one-third” to “as nearly as may be, one-third”. Two of the recommendations are not incorporated in the 2008 Bill. The first is for reserving seats in Rajya Sabha and Legislative Councils. The second is for sub-reservation for OBC women after the Constitution extends reservation to OBCs. The 2008 Bill was referred to the Standing Committee on Law and Justice. This Committee failed to reach a consensus in its final report. The Committee has recommendedthat the Bill “be passed in Parliament and put in action without further delay. Two members of the Committee, Virender Bhatia and Shailendra Kumar (both belonging to the Samajwadi Party) dissented stating that they were not against providing reservation to women but disagreed with the way this Bill was drafted. They had three recommendations: (i) every political party must distribute 20% of its tickets to women; (ii) even in the current form, reservation should not exceed 20% of seats; and (iii) there should be a quota for women belonging to OBCs and minorities. The Standing committee considered two other methods of increasing representation. One suggestion (part of election commission recommendations) was to requite political parties to nominate women for a minimum percentage of seats. The committee felt that parties could bypass the spirit of the law by nominating women to losing seats. The second recommendation was to create dual member constituencies, with women filling one of the two seats from those constituencies. The Committee believed that this move could “result in women being reduced to a subservient status, which will defeat the very purpose of the Bill”. It is interesting to note that the Committee did not reject the two recommendations of the Geeta Mukherjee Committee that are not reflected in the Bill. The Committee concluded that the issue of reservations to Rajya Sabha and Legislative Councils needs to be examined thoroughly as the upper Houses play an equally important role under the Constitution. Incidentally, it is not possible to reserve seats in Rajya Sabha given the current system of elections to that house (see Appendix below). On the issue of reservations to OBC women, the Committee said that “all other issues may be considered at an appropriate time by Government without any further delay at the present time in the passage of the Bill”. Though the Bill does not have a consensus – it has been opposed by SP, RJD and JD(U) – most parties have publicly expressed their support for it. The government will likely not find it difficult to muster two-third support in each House of Parliament were the Bill be taken up for consideration and passing. It would be interesting to see whether the Bill is brought before Parliament in the upcoming Budget Session. Appendix: Impossibility of Reservation in Rajya Sabha Article 80of the Constitution specifies that members of state assemblies will elect Rajya Sabha MPs through single transferable vote. This implies that the votes are first allocated to the most preferred candidate, and then to the next preferred candidate, and so on. This system cannot accommodate the principle of reserving a certain number of seats for a particular group. Currently, Rajya Sabha does not have reservation for SCs and STs. Therefore, any system that provides reservation in Rajya Sabha implies that the Constitution must be amended to jettison the Single Transferable Vote system.