When a bench of Justices Sanjiv Khanna and J K Maheshwari agreed to entertain the PIL filed by an NGO, ‘National Federation of Indian Women’, the central government’s counsel Kanu Agrawal argued that there are serious problems about maintainability of the petition as it has sought a writ of mandamus to the government to undertake a particular legislation.
“We are aware of the maintainability problem. But it has raised an issue of considerable importance,” the bench said. It asked the government to file its response in six weeks, granted three weeks to the petitioner NGO to file its rejoinder and scheduled a detailed hearing for March next year.
The 70-year-old NGO, led by Aruna Roy and Annie Raja, sought a writ of mandamus to the NDA government for re-introduction of the bill, which was passed by Rajya Sabha in 2010 but lapsed with the dissolution of Lok Sabha in 2014 as the UPA-II did not placed it before the lower House. Roy has been its president since 2005 and Raja the general secretary since 2008.
Keeping in view the 1997 Vishaka judgment, the SC has consistently ruled that the apex court can lay down guidelines to fill a legislative vacuum but cannot legislate or direct the government to enact a particular kind of legislation.
It would be interesting to watch how the SC overcomes this jurisdictional hurdle created through past consistent rulings.
The NGO said it was aware that “a writ of mandamus cannot be issued to Parliament. However, the SC can issue a writ of mandamus to the government to introduce the bill in Parliament for discussion”.
It said the women’s reservation bill was first introduced in Lok Sabha in 1996 but was referred to a joint parliamentary committee.
The NDA government under Atal Bihari Vajpayee introduced the bill thrice in 1999, 2002 and 2003, without success. The UPA government under Manmohan Singh re-introduced the bill in 2010 in Rajya Sabha, which passed it as 108th Constitutional Amendment. But the bill lapsed with the dissolution of 15th Lok Sabha in 2014.