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The government has no intention of bulldozing the women’s reservation bill in the Lok Sabha and will instead prefer talking to critics to sort out differences, Law Minister M. Veerapa Moily has said.

‘After all in a democracy (you) can’t bulldoze. Talking is the real beauty of democracy,’ Moily told IANS in an exclusive interview, underscoring a change of heart on the part of the ruling coaliton that pushed through the proposed legislation in the Rajya Sabha March 9. 

The minister said that parties opposed to the bill had ‘demanded a discussion outside the house’ and indicated that the government had also softened its position because of the pending legislative agenda. 

He said the government intended to bring the bill in the lower house of parliament in the budget session but wanted a ‘smooth passage’. 

Moily indicated that dates for consultations with political parties would be decided by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee. 

The Samajwadi Party, the Rashtriya Janata Dal and a section of the Janata Dal-United are bitterly opposed to the bill which provides for reservation of 33 percent seats in legislatures for women on a rotational basis for 15 years. 

The parties opposing the bill want a quota for women belonging to backward classes, minorities and the Dalit community. The Bahujan Samaj Party has an added demand: increase the percentage of reservation for women to 50 percent.

The minister ruled out the possibility of quota within quota as demanded by the bill’s opponents. ‘How can we provide quota within quota? It can’t be done as there is no reservation for minorities and backward classes in the present set-up. It’s not lawful,’ he said. 

The women’s reservation bill has been on the political agenda since 1996. ‘It lapsed three times and was introduced for the fourth time in 2008. It has been looked into by a standing committee where all parties were represented.’ 

Asked if the government’s thrust on the quota bill posed any threat to its stability, Moily said: ‘For any change in society, one should have boldness. Commitment to a cause, that is the criterion.’ 

The minister said the task of determining the reserved seats will be similar to that performed by the delimitation commission which went across the country to consult political parties for deciding new configuration of Lok Sabha constituencies. The delimitation commission took almost five years to complete its work. 

Asked if a commission will be formed to carry out consultations to determine the process of reserving seats, Moily said the task could also be done by the Election Commission. 

He said that procedures were involved in implementation of the legislation ‘which can’t be cut short’ 

The minister said once the bill was passed by parliament, it will go to 14 states for ratification. ‘That may take not less than nine months.’ But he was confident the legislation will be ‘definitely implemented before the next general election’.

 Asked about apprehensions that women from privileged classes will benefit more from the bill, he said that in the ultimate analysis women will profit from the changes being contemplated. 

He said that women’s representation in Indian legislatures was less than the average in Asia and the world.

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