A flawed move

Print edition : June 08, 2002

The Delimitation Bill which has been passed in Parliament shows limited vision in seeking to effect a delimitation exercise on the basis of 1991 Census figures, instead of the 2001 figures.

THE passage of the Delimitation Bill in both Houses of Parliament during the Budget session, without incorporating certain sensible suggestions made by Members of Parliament and experts, marks a setback to the process of correcting distortions in the delimitation of electoral constituencies. The Bill aims to create a Delimitation Commission that will work towards effecting the process of redrawing the boundaries of constituencies on the basis of population figures in the 1991 Census. The process of delimitation that determined the contours of Lok Sabha and Assembly constituencies as they exist today was done on the basis of the 1971 Census figures.

The need for a fresh delimitation exercise was felt owing to uneven growth in population in respect of different parts of the country as well as within the same State, and consequent anomalies in the sizes of constituencies. Migration from one place to another, especially from rural to urban areas, has added to the disparity in the physical sizes of constituencies even within a State. The notification of the 84th Amendment to the Constitution, after its passage in both Houses of Parliament last year, and the consent granted since then to the amendment by more than half the State Assemblies, has now cleared the deck for the setting up of the Delimitation Commission through legislation.

The 84th Amendment to the Constitution (which was numbered as the 91st Amendment Bill before it was passed in Parliament) lifted the freeze on the delimitation of constituencies, as stipulated by the 42nd Constitution amendment of 1976, and allowed delimitation within States on the basis of the 1991 Census. (The freeze imposed in 1976 was to last until the 2001 Census figures were published.) The 84th Amendment amended the provisos to the relevant Articles in the Constitution to extend the freeze on the allocation of Lok Sabha and Assembly seats from the year 2000 to 2026; it also paved the way for readjustment of these seats on the basis of the 1991 Census figures, in order to achieve parity between constituencies, as far as feasible. However, the 84th amendment imposed a fresh freeze on the State-wise distribution of Lok Sabha seats and the strength of individual State Assemblies until 2026. This was owing to because of the fear that the number of Lok Sabha seats from States with a good record in family planning may come down under the constitutional stipulation that the ratio of the population of each constituency as ascertained in the previous Census and the number of seats allotted to the State should remain the same throughout the State as far as possible (Frontline, August 31, 2001).

IN a sense, the flaws in the current Delimitation Bill stem from certain inconsistencies in the 84th Amendment. The database for the delimitation, according to the Amendment, would be the 1991 Census, even though provisional results of the 2001 Census are available. The final results may be published by December 2002.

Between 1991 and 2001, there were significant changes in the population patterns of some States, thanks to migration and the formation of new States. Data from the 2001 Census will, therefore, be an important input for the delimitation process. During the debate in Parliament, some members said that the Delimitation Commission ought to base its work on the 2001 Census data.

However, Law Minister Arun Jaitley, who piloted the Bill in both the Houses, rejected the suggestion and said that the Commission would have to complete its work within two years, so that it would be possible to notify the process of change before the next general elections to the Lok Sabha, due before October 2004. If the 2001 Census data are to be used, the exercise cannot be completed before the next general elections, he said. Jaitley felt that the proposed Commission will have less work when compared to the three earlier Commissions (set up after the 1951, 1961 and 1971 Census rounds) in view of the availability of computer technology, and the fact that no change in the number of Lok Sabha and State Assembly seats is required to be made. His overriding concern appeared to be to help candidates and parties know in advance the shape and size of constituencies before the next Lok Sabha elections, even if the delimitation was based on 10-year-old Census figures. The government did not seem willing to consider whether the publication of the 2001 Census figures could be expedited, in order to enable their use in the proposed delimitation exercise.

The next Census-based delimitation exercise is expected only in 2031, after the current freeze expires in 2026. The objective of correcting anomalies in the size of constituencies would therefore lag behind the times. It appears that short-term political considerations will always come in the way of achieving the real objectives of the Delimitation Commission, unless there is a permanent Delimitation Commission entrusted with the task of redrawing constituencies after every Census.

THE proposed Delimitation Commissions, one for each State, will consist of three core members, of whom one would be a sitting or former Judge of the Supreme Court who would act as the chairperson. The Chief Election Commissioner or an Election Commi-ssioner and the State Election Commi-ssioner of the State concerned be ex-officio members. There will also be 10 associate members in each State: five will be the Members of the Lok Sabha (representing the State) and five will be Members of the State Assembly. The Centre will appoint the chairperson, while the Lok Sabha Speaker and the Speakers of the State Assemblies concerned will choose the associate members, with due regard to the composition of the House or the Assembly concerned.

The earlier Delimitation Commi-ssions had two Judges as members, besides the Chief Election Commissioner who acted as the ex-officio member. According to Jaitley, the government considered that the change in composition would make the Commission more balanced, avoiding over-representation by Judges.

The government rejected demands made by some MPs that the associate members be given voting rights, and be made part of the decision-making process of the Commissions. Jaitley felt that conceding this demand may give a fillip to gerrymandering efforts, and give an opportunity to ruling parties in the States to try to manipulate the Commission's proceedings in order to redraw the boundaries to suit their own electoral interests. The Minister assured Parli-ament that the associate members would be drawn from among different parties, so as to reflect the composition of a House. But the need to broadbase the composition of the Commissions by bringing in more experts cannot be brushed aside. The exclusion of Rajya Sabha members has also been adversely commented upon.

According to the Delimitation Bill, the basis of determining the number of seats reserved for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes will be the 1991 Census figures. But the number of general seats, which will remain frozen until 2026, have been determined on the basis of the 1971 Census figures. Some MPs, therefore, expressed the apprehension that in some States the number of reserved seats may go up, while in a few others, it might come down. However, indications are that there will be an overall increase in the number of reserved seats in the Lok Sabha and the State Assemblies.

IT is being pointed out that the Commission ought to try and ensure that the constituencies reserved for S.C. candidates are those where the S.C. population is comparatively large, and those reserved for S.Ts are the ones where their population is relatively the largest; because unlike S.Cs, who are dispersed across States, S.Ts are confined to particular areas. It remains to be seen how the the Commission will manage to reorganise the reserved seats in a State, without risking some degree of resistance from the classes that are deprived of a fair share, be it S.C., S.T. or the general category.

The government has rejected the demand of some MPs and experts that seats reserved for S.Cs be rotated at least once in 10 years. The logic behind the demand was that constituencies with very low S.C. population should not be left out of the reservation process. But certain other MPs appear to resist the demand for rotation mainly because it would affect their winning chances in the next election if their current seats are either reserved or dereserved.

The fourth Delimitation Commi-ssion will come into being soon; its performance will be judged in terms of how much it contributes to achieving its objectives, within the constraints it faces. The principle behind the periodic delimitation exercise is to ensure that the value of one citizen's vote is approximately the same as that of another. It may therefore be imperative that the law let the new Delimitation Commission take up the task of readjusting the size of constituencies as per the latest Census figures.

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