The day is not far off when more than 114 women corporators, out of the city’s 227, will have a say in the Rs 20,000 crore budget of India’s richest municipal corporation.
The state cabinet decided last week to reserve 50% of local bodies’ seats for women, a decision that is to be tabled as a bill in the budget session that begins on Monday.
Almost 150 years after its construction, the historical central hall of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation building in south Mumbai will witness debates on issues that were always put on the backburner — toilets for women, better education for children and better maternity health, civic crèches, etc.
“Real issues will come to the forefront because women have the capability to see things differently,” said Chandra Iyengar, a former Indian Administrative Services officer who drafted the first women’s reservation bill in the early 1990s. “With 50% reservation for women, the direction of the budget also ought to change.”
Since 1994, we have had 30% reservation for women in local bodies. The corporation has 90 women corporators, about 40% of the total.
But questions are also being raised about whether women who stand will be independent or proxies for men.
“Reservation for women as a concept has now stabilised,” said Surendra Jondhale, head of political science department, University of Mumbai. “Women are now more conscious, assertive and confident of their role in governance. While some candidates will make inroads with the help of their family connections, capable women are not likely to do so.”
An encouraging example is former mayor Shubha Raul, a doctor who despite belonging to the other backward class category fought the 2007 elections in the open category against male candidates, and won. She only later took benefit of reservation to become mayor. (See ‘Interview’).
“This will happen increasingly after this reservation comes in to effect because political parties will want to see capable, and not proxy, candidates coming into the fray,” said Jondhale. “Also some candidates who started off as proxies have gone on to develop a good political acumen.”
Iyengar agreed: “When the reservation first came in, there were a lot of proxy candidates, but with growing awareness it reduced. Reservation will see more young women participating in the governance process.”
Raul feels that reservations should extend to the highest level. “ What is the use of calling reservation in local bodies a revolution when you can’t get the decision cleared at the state assembly and centre?” she asked.
The state assembly has only 11 women of 288 members, and only one is a minister — Varsha Gaikwad from Congress. The other woman minister, Fauzia Khan, of the Nationalist Congress Party, is member of the legislative council.