Odisha set to get its first woman assembly speaker soon

Pramila Mallik will file her nomination papers on Thursday; poll to be held on Friday

Pramila-Mallik Odisha Revenue and Disaster Management Minister Pramila Mallik

Coinciding with the passage of the Women's Reservation Bill in Lok Sabha, the Biju Janta Dal, on Wednesday, announced that Revenue and Disaster Management Minister Pramila Mallik will be the first woman speaker in Odisha assembly if elected to the post.

The office of the speaker has been lying vacant since May when Bikram Keshari Arukha quit the post to be inducted into the state cabinet as finance minister. Mallik will file her nomination for the post of speaker on Thursday. The election will be held on Friday.

Mallik, a senior Dalit woman leader of the BJD, has been elected to the state assembly six times. She handled different ministries, including women and child development, and was also the chief whip of the party. Mallik, who hails from the politically significant coastal district of Jajpur, has also been the president of BJD's women's wing for a long time.

Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik and his party Biju Janta Dal have always been demanding reservation for women in both state assemblies and Parliament. The party has often raised the issue at the national level and since there could not be a national consensus on the issue, the party, in 2019 announced that one-third of the seats would be reserved for women.

Empowerment of women had been one of the mottos of BJD founder and former chief minister Biju Patnaik. Biju Patnaik had reserved one-third of seats in rural and urban local bodies and also made the criteria of two child norm to contest elections as he was in favour of small families. The Naveen Patnaik government had raised the reservation percentage for women in panchayat and municipal bodies to 50 per cent from one-third fixed by Biju Patnaik government.

Biju Patnaik had also implemented one-third quota in government jobs, including police, for women. At that time, 33 per cent quota for women in police had created a controversy as top officers in the force had reservations against the move.

It seems only fitting that Odisha gets its first woman speaker even as the Women's Reservation Bill is passed in Parliament.

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