In a first of its kind initiative, the Bihar assembly has adopted a legislation that fixes a 50% quota for women in all cooperative bodies of the state, including primary agricultural co-operative societies (PACS).
The Bihar Cooperative Society (Amendment) Bill, 2013, described by experts here as ‘game changer’, was adopted by the house by a voice vote, late on Tuesday.
Speaking on the occasion, chief minister Nitish Kumar said the new provisions were aimed at empowering the women of the state.
“Nearly 10 lakh women self-help groups (SHGs) are functioning in Bihar. The new law will ensure massive participation of women in the cooperative institutions. It will change the face of the cooperative bodies,” he added.
Experts said it will do more than that.
“This move will enable Kumar to enlist the electoral support of many influential women beneficiaries of the quota in co-operatives, just as 50% reservation for women in panchayats and urban local bodies in 2006, went on to give him a second term in office in 2010”, said DM Diwakar, director of AN Sinha institute of social studies, a leading Patna think tank.
Co-operative movement veterans think the Nitish regime’s latest gambit is aimed at breaking the stranglehold of families and individuals who have traditionally controlled the co-operative entities in Bihar.
“The government has changed rules to bring PACS at par with village panchayats. Just as mukhias control panchayat funds, PACS chiefs will do all financial matters relating to farmers, including procurement of crops and providing seeds and irrigation facility”, said former Congress MLC Ajay Kumar Singh, head of the Bihar state sugar cooperatives federation.
Singh said the government’s latest move meant that about 4,250 out of 8,500 PACS heads would henceforth be women.
“The women coming to the fore on the back of the new quota will be opinion makers and will have a stake in the well-being of the Nitish regime”, said the Congress leader, son of late Tapeshwar Singh, regarded as a ‘doyen’ of the co-operative movement in Bihar.
According to Shaibal Gupta, member-secretary of another well-known Patna think tank, Asian development research institute (ADRI), the ‘quota for women’ move would help break the vice-like grip of the ‘co-operative mafia’ in the state.
“The resultant democratization process will unleash women as vehicles of change. This will undoubtedly stand the Nitish regime in good stead ahead of the next Lok sabha election”, Gupta told HT.
Late last month, the chief minister had announced his government’s decision to reserve for women 35% out of about 25,000 posts of police constables against which appointments would start soon.
“The catch here is that the appointments will be staggered over next five years, keeping the women aspiring to be in the police interested in this regime’s continuance in office”, said a JD(U) source.
Furthermore, Kumar recently committed himself to facilitating karate and judo training to schoolgirls across Bihar, so that they could take on street Romeos.
“I want 50,000 girls displaying their martial skills by this time next year”, he said during a Bihar Diwas event last month, in another of his slew of recent female-friendly gestures.