New delhi: In an attempt to consolidate its women and minority support base, Congress party-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA), on the eve of completing 100 days in power, announced on Thursday several measures, including a proposal to increase reservation for women to 50% in panchayats, or local administrative units.
Additional measures include setting up of seven new Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) in seven states, two of which are election bound before the end of the year, and concessional loans to students belonging to economically weaker sections of society in recognized technical and professional institutions.
With the cabinet approving the proposal to enhance the existing 33% reservation for women in all tiers of panchayats—village, sub-district and district levels—to 50%, a Bill to amend Article 243D of the constitution, which deals with reservation of seats in panchayats, is expected to be brought in winter session of Parliament, which is scheduled to begin in November. The decision is not applicable in other local bodies such as municipalities and corporations.
More B-schools: The Indian Institute of Management, Lucknow. Four of the seven new IIMs being planned will be functional by next year. Rajkumar / Mint
The decisions precede the assembly elections in Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Haryana and Arunachal Pradesh. The Election Commission, the autonomous body that conducts elections in India, is expected to announce the poll dates early September.
The seven new IIMs will be set up in Tamil Nadu, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Haryana, Jammu and Kashmir, Uttarakhand and Rajasthan. The ones in Tiruchirappalli (Tamil Nadu), Ranchi (Jharkhand), Raipur (Chhattisgarh) and Rohtak (Haryana) will be set up this fiscal and would be functional from the next academic session beginning 2010, information and broadcasting minister Ambika Soni told reporters after the cabinet meeting.
The cabinet committee on economic affairs (CCEA), which also met on Thursday, cleared concessional loans to enable students from economically weaker sections to study in an approved course in recognized technical and professional institutions.
Briefing the media about the CCEA, home minister P. Chidambaram pointed out that this was one of the promises made by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in his Independence Day speech.
The scheme, to be applicable from the ongoing academic year, would provide full interest subsidy during the period of moratorium on loans taken by students from scheduled banks.
Raising the percentage of reservation for women in panchayats was a commitment made by President Pratibha Patil in her address to the joint session of Parliament in June, on the first day of the 15th Lok Sabha. States such as Bihar, Uttarakhand, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh, ruled by the opposition National Democratic Alliance (NDA), have already implemented 50% reservation for women in panchayats. Similarly, Congress-ruled Rajasthan and Left-ruled Kerala have also announced that the proposal will be implemented in the next local body elections.
The 33% reservation for women in panchayati raj institutions was brought in with the 73rd constitutional amendment during former Congress prime minister P.V. Narasimha Rao’s time, but the idea was mooted by late prime minister Rajiv Gandhi. Currently, out of the about 2.8 million elected representatives of panchayats, 36.87% are women.
Rama Brahmam, professor of political science in University of Hyderabad, sees it as a significant political move. “The timing is significant. Other than the state elections, at least 17 states are going to have panchayat elections in the coming six months. But the decision to reserve 50% seats for women is a good move because some surveys have indicated that women leaders in local bodies take decisions for sustainable development rather than men leaders.”
The cabinet also approved increasing the authorized share capital of National Minorities Development Finance Corporation, whose schemes are targeted for economic upliftment of people from minority communities living below double the poverty line through self-employment, from Rs850 crore to Rs1,000 crore.