THE CONTEXT: As India prepares for its next Census, the Delimitation of Lok Sabha seats and the distribution of central funds to states based on the population has become a point of concern. Southern states, which have implemented family planning programs more effectively than Northern states, may be unfairly treated in this process. Another issue is of dismissing of petition by Supreme Court which challenged the delimitation exercise carried out for redrawing the Legislative Assembly and Lok Sabha constituencies in the Union Territory of Jammu & Kashmir. In this regard, this article will discuss the process of Delimitation, its historical background, related issues and measures that need to be taken to resolve the issue.
ISSUE RELATED TO JAMMU KASHMIR DELIMITATION
- Petitioners had contended that the delimitation exercise was in violation of the scheme of the Constitution of India, especially Article 170(3), which had frozen delimitation till the first census after 2026. He had argued that the delimitation exercise was being carried out in the teeth of constitutional and statutory provisions.
- It had had emphasized that post 2008, all delimitation related exercise can be carried out only by the Election Commission and not a Delimitation Commission.
COUNTER ARGUMENT BY CENTRE GOVERNMENT
- Centre Government argued that the legislature intended the first delimitation to be undertaken by a Delimitation Commission and not the Election Commission as it is busy holding election.
- Centre had said the Jammu and Kashmir Re-organisation Act does not preclude the establishment of a Delimitation Commission by the Central Government and provides for two alternative mechanisms to carry out delimitation for the Union Territory.
- On the legality of the Centre setting up a Delimitation Commission by notification dated March 6, 2020, the bench said “the J&K Reorganization Act, which created the two new Union territories, assigns the role of readjustment of constituencies to the Delimitation Commission under the Delimitation Act, 2002”.
- Supreme Court, on Monday, dismissed a petition which challenged the delimitation exercise carried out for redrawing the Legislative Assembly and Lok Sabha constituencies in the Union Territory of Jammu & Kashmir
WHAT IS DELIMITATION?
- Delimitation is the process of fixing limits or boundaries of territorial constituencies in a country to reflect changes in population.
- The main objective is to follow the principle of “One Vote One Value” and ensure a fair division of geographical areas to prevent any political party from having an advantage in an election.
- It allows for the legitimate transferability and visibility of votes within the larger democratic scheme.
- The Delimitation Commission Act was established in 1952 and allowed the Union government to set up a Delimitation Commission as needed.
- The Union government sets up Delimitation Commission after every Census, as per the provisions of the Delimitation Commission Act and the Constitution of India (Articles 82 and 170).
- The Delimitation Commission in India is appointed by the President of India and works in collaboration with the Election Commission of India.
- The Commission is composed of a retired Supreme Court judge, the Chief Election Commissioner, and the respective State Election Commissioners.
- Its functions include determining the number and boundaries of constituencies to make the population of all constituencies nearly equal and identifying seats reserved for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes where their population is relatively large.
- In case of a difference of opinion, the opinion of the majority prevails and the Commission’s orders have the force of law and cannot be challenged in court.
How is Delimitation done?
- According to Article 82 of the Constitution, Parliament enacts a Delimitation Act after Census that is held every 10 years. The Union government then constitutes a Delimitation Commission headed by a retired Supreme Court judge. The Commission examines population data, existing constituencies, the number of seats to be analyzed, holds meetings with all the stakeholders and submits its recommendation to the government.
- The draft report of the Delimitation Commission is published in the Gazette of India, the official gazettes of the states concerned and at least two vernacular publications seeking feedback from the general public.
WHAT IS THE DEBATE NOW?
POTENTIAL IMPACT OF DELIMITATION ON THE 2031 CENSUS:
2019 research paper “India’s Emerging Crisis of Representation” speculates potential impact of Delimitation on the allocation of seats in India’s parliament. According to the paper, if the Delimitation is carried out based on the 2031 Census, states in the north such as Bihar and Uttar Pradesh are expected to gain 21 seats, while southern states like Tamil Nadu and Kerala may lose 16 seats.
PERFORMANCE OF SOUTHERN STATES
The economic situation of the Southern states has improved significantly in recent years, with a significant reduction in poverty and an increase in income levels. The combined GDP of just three states, Karnataka, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu is greater than 13 states in the East. In terms of educational and health outcomes, the southern states have performed better compared to the northern states, with a higher proportion of graduates and better learning outcomes.
LOSS OF FUNDS AND REPRESENTATION TO SOUTHERN STATES
Concerns were raised about southern states losing funding and representation in parliament after the 15th Finance Commission used the 2011 Census as a basis for its recommendations. Implementing effective family planning programs has led to a lower population growth rate in Southern states compared to Northern states, which could result in a smaller share of central funds and fewer Lok Sabha seats for Southern states in the delimitation exercise
DEMAND OF SOUTHERN STATES
Southern states argue that they should be recognised and rewarded for their efforts to control population growth, rather than penalized for their success, as better educational and health outcomes in the Southern states imply a better ability to discern and make decisions, and a higher expectation for better public services and governance.
- Constitutional provisions: The Constitution under Article 82 and 83 provides for consistent delimitation exercises, every 10 years, post every Census. It coupled with providing the power to legislate matters related to Delimitation under Article 327, which is not subject to judicial review.
- Four delimitation commissions have been set up, in 1952, 1963, 1973, and 2002, under the Acts of 1952, 1962, 1972, and 2002, respectively. The first delimitation exercise was carried out by the President, with the assistance of the Election Commission, in 1950-51.
- Freezing till 2001: Post the setting up of three delimitation commissions until 1972, the Union Government, led by the Indian National Congress with Indira Gandhi at the helm, imposed a freeze on this delimitation exercise till the year 2001 under the 42nd Constitutional Amendment.
- Freezing till 2026: In 2001, the year the freeze on Delimitation was supposed to expire the then ruling National Democratic Alliance (‘NDA’)-run Union Government, which had a clear political incentive to have resumed Delimitation, extended the freeze till 2026 with identical justifications. According to the Constitution (84th Amendment) Act, 2002, there is a freeze on readjustment of constituencies till the first Census after 2026.
- In 2008, it seemed to be reverting the freeze on Delimitation, but it was masked by a deliberate and inconsistent approach to only remove the freeze for the SC and ST seats and adjust them according to the 2001 Census in 2008 via the Election Commission’s Delimitation of Parliamentary and Assembly Constituencies Order, 2008 one of the most structurally intuitive appeasement policies till date.
- The rationale given by the Centre in the past to postpone the demand for a delimitation exercise till 2026 was the freeze after the last population-based Delimitation in the country was held in 1971. The Centre said the next delimitation exercise in the country cannot be held until the first Census after 2026. This in effect meant that the next Delimitation can be carried out only according to the 2031 census . This position flows from the 84th amendment of the Constitution, passed when late Atal Bihari Vajpayee was leading the NDA government. However, nothing stops the government from amending the Constitution further to prepone the delimitation process to any time before 2026.
ANALYSIS OF THE ISSUE
FREEZING TILL 2026
Seeing that a delimitation based on census data would create a political anomaly, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, through the 42nd Amendment of the Constitution in 1976, froze the process. Through the 84th Amendment, Prime Minister Vajpayee froze it again till 2026.
The delimitation process gives such a population-based marking out or re-arrangement of constituencies as more MPs to the states and Union territories that have that more population.
PUNISHING SUCCESSFUL STATES
It was disproportionately punishing states that were successful in their implementation of the Family Policy initiatives. The inherent problem with this line of argumentation is that it fails to adequately weigh one aspect of State policy (that is, population control) along with denying the basic foundational principle of democracy, which is effective and proportional representation.
LACK OF PARAMETERS
There is a complex intersection of historical, economic and social contexts, there is a lack of parameters in which such policies are meant to be enforced particularly and need of sensitization or monitoring of supplementary policies. For instance, parameters such as literacy and female education can lead to desired family size and population control.
SHADOWED POLITICAL INTERESTS
Some vested Political interest is to create north-south divide for political gains
NORTH SOUTH DIVIDE IN ELECTORAL REPRESENTATION
It is argued that the distribution of parliamentary constituencies in India favours populous states such as Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, while southern states like Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, and Karnataka have fewer seats. If Delimitation takes place, southern states will likely experience a reduction in the number of seats allocated to them compared to the northern states. Hence, when considering electoral representation, the quality of the people should be given more importance than just the number of people.
POLICYMAKERS NEED TO CONSIDER CHANGES
Delimitation has been frozen since 1976, and if it is carried out after 2031, policymakers will need to consider the demographic and political changes that have taken place in the country over the past 60 years.
Delimitation exercise that adds electoral value to one set of states while depleting representative value to another is, to use a phrase coined by Amartya Sen in another context, ‘valuationally gross’. It cannot but be seen as an unfair punishment where there should be a deserved reward.
ISSUES RELATED TO DELIMITATION
- North-South imbalance: It will potentially shift power away from the South towards the north and create a north south imbalance in electoral representation.
- Affect Representation of Women: The delimitation exercise is also going to deepen the representational disadvantage faced by women, because population-controlling states are also those where the women of India have played a decisive role in that achievement and where their role in the process of elections and representation has been critical.
- Affect Representation of SC/ST: It will also affect the allocation of seats reserved for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (SC/ST).
- Penalize better performing states: It could penalize better performing states in demography or economy as southern states by giving them lower representation.
- Impact voter’s right: It could affect individual voter’s rights as voters in southern states will automatically have less power than voters in northern states as there will be lesser representation of southern states.
- Impact electoral process: The process could harm the electoral process as cause vulnerability and affect the democratic and political fabric of a country due to partisan politics, vested interests, and the unchecked power of political parties that have the ability to dilute constitutional safeguards.
THE WAY FORWARD
- Finding alternatives: There are two alternative:
- This time freeze is not for any specific period but till such time as all states achieve population stabilisation.
- Demographic and statistical experts had devised a mathematical model along the lines of the ‘Cambridge Compromise’ based on a mathematically equitable ‘formula’ for the apportionment of the seats of the European Parliament among the member states. Its recommendation can be considered as increasing the total number of seats in Parliament to ensure that no state loses the seats it already has.
- Population control: It has been suggested that improved awareness and better implementation of family planning programmes such as Mission Parivar Vikas have helped bring India’s overall fertility rate closer to replacement levels in northern states.
- Reap Demographic dividend: India must invest in health, nutrition, education, skilling and employability before the window of opportunity closes.
- Gradual acceptance for change: Gradual acceptance for change and lesser number of seats to give up or receive per state, The overarching theme that connects these observations is that one could argue that the ability to have been receptive to such changes through Delimitation may have been better accepted by political parties, voters and other related stakeholders through a phase-out mechanism.
- Better tracking and scrutiny of developmental indicators: There is a need for better tracking and scrutiny of developmental indicators, population control measures, and outcomes and rationale within the spaces of the Parliament and state legislatures.
- Devising an alternative formula: There is a need of devising an alternative formula taking into account the disparity created between the imposition on states to legislate and enforce population control mechanism, progress made retrospectively over the last 50 years, that is, between the 1971 and 2021 Censuses, along with their current position.
THE CONCLUSION: There is an immediate need for policy and legislative change in the most appropriate manner where Delimitation needs to be resumed with respect to extensive structural changes over the past 50 years. There is a need to tackle the electorate to lobby and preserve the constitutional sanctity and federal character of this country and must continue to enrich our legislative and parliamentary processes.
- India is a federation where states are important political units of the union. However, the new delimitation exercise is creating north-south divide in electoral representation. Discuss.
- Explain the Delimitation process and how it shaped Indian democracy and demography over the years.