New Delhi, March 8 Cutting across party lines, members in the Rajya Sabha on Thursday raised the long pending demand of Women's Reservation Bill and asked for its passage, with Chairman M. Venkaiah Naidu suggesting that the government accord it top priority for rapid growth of the country.
On the occasion of International Women's Day, Naidu provided an opportunity to the members to speak on the issue and urged the political parties to refrain from politicising the issue.
Soon after the House met in the morning, Naidu greeted the women members and through them all the women across the country and allowed members to speak on issues concerning women.
Raising concerns over issues of gender equality, safety of women and discrimination against the girl child, Naidu expressed hope that the government will respect the sentiments of the House and take care of the unfulfilled agenda of women empowerment.
"With women constituting about 50 per cent of our population, social, economic and political empowerment of women, including providing reservation in Parliament and state legislatures, has to be accorded top priority to achieve rapid progress," Naidu said.
Congress member Ambika Soni urged the House to pass a resolution to provide 33 per cent reservation for women in Parliament and state assemblies.
She was supported by fellow women members including Renuka Chowdhury, Kumari Selja, Rajni Patil and K. Kanimozhi.
Patil questioned the government's intention over passage of the Bill, while Kanimozhi said the entire House is with the government on it.
"Pass the bill. We are with you," she said.
When some women members, including Rajni Patil and Chhaya Verma of the Congress, questioned the government's intention with regard to the Women's Reservation Bill and Sampatiya Uike and Rupa Ganguly of the BJP tried to counter them, Naidu urged the members to refrain from the blame game over the women's cause.
"Don't make the issue of reservation controversial. Let's focus our attention on the issue. The moment you get into politics, the real issue is gone," he remarked.
He said a mere bill is not sufficient. "What is needed is political will and administrative skill to kill the evils."
External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj mentioned the achievements of women in different fields and urged the members and the people of the country to take a pledge for ensuring women safety and providing justice to them.
"Women's Reservation Bill is important. But there are achievements by women even without reservation."
The Minister said India is a country where women have become President, Prime Minister and twice the Speaker of a House.
"Today, women are doing combat duty in the Army and flying planes in the Air Force. But there are crimes against women which bring shame to us. Which is why this day is one on which we should take a pledge to end such crimes," she said.
Opposition leader Ghulam Nabi Azad supported the long pending demand of women reservation and sought stringent action against those who commit crimes like rape.
Speaking for the government, Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Vijay Goel said the Narendra Modi government has taken up many programmes for women empowerment. But he gave no assurance on Women's Reservation Bill.
The Bill seeks to reserve one-third of all seats for women in the Lok Sabha and the state legislative assemblies.
Introduced during the UPA-I government in May 2008, it also provides that a third of the total number of seats reserved for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes shall be reserved for women of those groups.
Similar Bills had been introduced thrice earlier -- in the late 90s, but lapsed with the dissolution of respective Lok Sabha.
Since 1996, the Bill has lapsed each time the House was dissolved and was later reintroduced by the next government.
In 2010, the then UPA government adopted it in the Rajya Sabha to keep it alive on the legislative agenda as the bills introduced and passed by the upper House do not lapse.