The bifurcation of the state of Jammu and Kashmir into two Union Territories alongside the effective revocation of Article 370 has set the ball rolling for a delimitation exercise to be carried out in the region. In the UT of Jammu and Kashmir, delimitation would have to be done for 114 constituencies on the basis of the 2011 Census.
Hence, with delimitation being the buzzword in the wake of the J&K move, let’s take a look at what it means, who oversees it, how it has been implemented over the years, as well as the issue of the ‘freeze’ which has been in place since 1976.
What Does It Mean?
Summing up delimitation in a nutshell, the Election Commission of India website says that it is the "act or process of fixing limits or boundaries of territorial constituencies in a country or a province (state or UT) having a legislative body." The process may also entail a change in the number of Lok Sabha seats allotted to different states, as well as in the number of Legislative Assembly seats for each state.
Now, one of the important principles that the Constitution had called to be kept in mind for the delimitation exercise was the maintenance of a uniform population-seat ratio, meaning that number of people elected leaders are representing should be uniform within and between states across the country "so far as practicable".
"“… there shall be allotted to each state a number of seats in the House of the People in such manner that the ratio between the number and the population of the state is, so far as practicable, the same for all states.”" - Constitution, Article 81(2)
However, maintaining that uniformity has proved to be a challenge, but, more on that later.
Who’s Behind It?
The body given the onerous responsibility of carrying out delimitation is the Delimitation Commission or Boundary Commission, which according to the EC, is a "high power body whose orders have the force of law and cannot be called in question before any court".
The Commission, comprising of a retired Supreme Court judge, the Chief Election Commissioner and the respective state election commissioners, carries out its task on the basis of the latest available Census data.
As this piece in The Indian Express points out, the commission's draft proposals are even open for public feedback, given either in writing or orally via public sittings. This feedback is then examined and may be incorporated in the proposal before the final order.
A Brief History
Delimitation in India first took place in 1950-51, although this was carried out by the President along with the EC as the Delimitation Commission did not exist at that time.
The Delimitation Commission was first constituted in 1952 under an Act of the same year, and since then, there have been three more that have been set up – in 1963, 1973 and 2002. You must be wondering what happened between 1973 and 2002 as well as post 2002. The answer lies in two Constitutional amendments of 1976 and 2001, which is where question of the ‘freeze’ comes in.
The 'Freeze' Question
In 1976, during the Emergency under the Indira Gandhi government, the Constitution (42nd Amendment), taking the population figures of the 1971 Census as the basis, ‘froze’ the delimitation process – that is, the allocation of seats – until 2001.
The rationale for this amendment was presumably to address concerns that following uniform population-seat principle for delimitation, would lead to backward states with a higher population growth ending up unduly increasing their seat-share, while those practicing population control being left with a reduced seat count and therefore, representation.
Nevertheless, the delimitation exercise was carried out within this period when new states, such as Mizoram and Uttarakhand, came into being.
Moving forward to 2001, which is when the deadline under the 42nd Amendment was due, the Parliament introduced (and passed) another amendment (84th Amendment Act), which extended this freeze till 2026.
The Bill sought to “cancel the redistribution (of seats) due after the 2001, 2011 and 2021 censuses”, although it did “allow the boundaries of seats within states to be redrawn so the large differences in constituency populations within states can be addressed.”
The rationale given was the same as for the 1976 amendment, with the Bill’s ‘Statement of Objects and Reasons’ stating, “Keeping in view the progress of family planning programmes in different parts of the country, the government, as part of the National Population Policy strategy, recently decided to extend the current freeze on undertaking fresh delimitation up to the year 2026 as a motivational measure to enable state governments to pursue the agenda for population stabilisation.”
Now, looking forward, even after 2026, delimitation would be carried out only when the subsequent Census data is made available, which would be in 2031. By then, one can expect the demographic of the country to be quite different, and therefore, for delimitation to suddenly and substantially transform the electoral map of the country, may not bode well.
Some Interesting Figures for Perspective
The challenge to maintain a uniform population-seat ratio between states in the delimitation exercise is highlighted if we look at a 2016 analysis by IndiaSpend based on data provided in a report by Kotak Securities. The analysis pointed out the disparities that exist between states in terms of the number of people represented by each member of Parliament (MP).
The comparison was made between states belonging to the Gangetic belt – states with high population growth including Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Uttarakhand – and those outside it.
According to the data, each MP in the Gangetic Belt represents an average of 2.5 million people (as per 2011 data), which is higher than the all-India average of 2.2 million. On the other hand, in the non-Gangetic belt, the average number of people each MP represents is significantly lower at two million people.
What more, the gap between the gangetic and non-gangetic states is estimated to widen further by 2026, with each MP predicted to represent 2.9 million people in the former, while for the latter, the representation by an MP would be just 2.3 million people.
Meanwhile, the advantage that states with higher popular growth would have accrued in terms of allocation of seats had the delimitation process not been frozen can be seen with the help of another set of figures.
Back in 2001, Sanjay Kumar, currently the director at the Centre for Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), had said that "If the total number of seats in the Lok Sabha is not to be increased, the quota of seats for different states is to be allocated on the basis of its population, and the principle of uniform population-seat ratio is followed for all the states, it is estimated that the four southern states will lose as many as 15 Lok Sabha seats and the four Northern States of Uttar Pradesh (including Uttarakhand), Bihar (including Jharkhand), Madhya Pradesh (including Chhattisgarh), and Rajasthan will... increase their quota by 15 seats."
But as the freeze is in place till 2031, any dramatic reorganisation in the electoral map of the country can only be expected after that.
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