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Fourth Delimitation of Constituencies: An Appraisal

The Fourth Delimitation Commission has by and large done a reasonable job - given the mandate it was provided. This major exercise of redrawing the political map of India - changing the distribution of seats in the Lok Sabha and state assemblies - was yet riddled with major shortcomings that violated the basic principles of representative democracy. Parliament shares the larger responsibility for the deficits in the exercise.

COMMENTARY

Fourth Delimitation of Constituencies: An Appraisal

A K Verma

of many deficits and limitations in the delimitation exercise, the work of the Fourth Delimitation Commission needs to be commended.

Having said that, we must also remember that the decisions of the Delimitation Commission enjoy judicial immunity, and

The Fourth Delimitation Commission has by and large done a reasonable job – given the mandate it was provided. This major exercise of redrawing the political map of India – changing the distribution of seats in the Lok Sabha and state assemblies

– was yet riddled with major shortcomings that violated the basic principles of representative democracy. Parliament shares the larger responsibility for the deficits in the exercise.

A K Verma (akv1722@gmail.com) is with the department of political science at Christ Church College, Kanpur.

I
ndian democracy has silently undergone a partial political surgery recently which shall now define the political landscape for electoral contests for the next three decades. This political surgery, called delimitation of parliamentary and assembly constituencies, has been repeated after 30 years. It was last done during 1972-76.1

The Fourth Delimitation Commission2 was constituted in 2001. It took the Delimitation Commission three years, 130 public sittings in 67 cities and towns across the country, hearing and disposing of objections or suggestions from 7,119 persons for 3,726 assembly and 513 Lok Sabha constituencies, and it spent more than Rs 20 crore to complete the process.3 The process remains incomplete in four northeastern states and Jammu and Kashmir.4 The recommendations of the Delimitation Commission were notified by the president on February 19, 2008, and it came into force with immediate effect. The final order is being placed before Parliament and the state assemblies, but they are not authorised to make any modification.

Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh – all slated to go to the polls later this year – will have elections on the basis of the new delimitation of constituencies. Assembly elections in Karnataka (where president’s rule ends on May 28, 2008) and the next Lok Sabha elections will also be held as per new delimitations.

Delimitation is a politico-administrative exercise and must necessarily produce reverberations, which some like and others do not. But the magnitude of the delimitation exercise was gigantic and, hence, allowance must be given for human errors. We must also remember that the situation on the ground in our country is so varied that a uniform application of any constitutional or legal dictate is bound to produce ridiculous results. Hence, in spite there is no scope for judicial redressal. So, if some wrong is committed in delimitation, it will remain uncorrected for the next 30 years. In spite of the good work done by the Delimitation Commission, the first delimitation exercise in 21st century India is full of limitations and deficits, the responsibility for which must be shared by Parliament and the Commission.

Parliament’s Responsibility

Of the two, Parliament must bear the greater responsibility for the weaknesses in the just completed delimitation exercise. It was expected that the first delimitation exercise in 30 years would be a fullfledged delimitation. But Parliament surprised everybody by permitting only a partial delimitation, and putting a further freeze on reallocation of seats of Lok Sabha and state assemblies for another 30 years. The Commission was permitted to do the redrawing of boundaries of parliamentary and assembly constituencies, and also reallocate the number of reserved constituencies to states on the basis of the Census of 2001, but it was prohibited from reallocating the number of Lok Sabha and assembly seats of states which remain frozen on the basis of the Census of 1971.

Another deficit was regarding making the 1991 Census the basis of the deli mi tation exercise, in spite of the availability of the 2001 Census figures. But Parliament rectified this problem through the 87th Constitutional Amendment of 2003 that made the 2001 Census the basis of the current delimitation though this did lead to delay, confusion and additional expenditure.

Parliament froze reallocation of Lok Sabha seats on the basis of the National Population Policy (NPP) arguing that a reallocation using the latest population of states would harm the interest of the southern states (which had largely stabilised population growth) vis-à-vis the northern states (where population

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continues to grow at a faster rate). But, is there any logic why Parliament put a freeze on the number of representatives to state assemblies? The Delimitation Commission should have been given powers to allocate more representatives to states on the basis of a rational principle that should have worked out the average number of

Table 1: States Gaining/Losing Lok Sabha Seats after Delimitation 2008

State Total General SCs STs Seats Seats Gain/ Seats Gain/ Seats Gain/ Allotted Loss Allotted Loss Allotted Loss

Punjab 13 9 -1 4 +1 0 Nil

Bihar 40 34 +1 6 -1 0 Nil

West Bengal 42 30 -2 10 +2 2 Nil

Jharkhand 14 8 Nil 2 +1 4 -1

Chhattisgarh 11 7 +2 1 -1 3 -1

Madhya Pradesh 29 19 -1 4 Nil 6 +1

Maharashtra 48 39 -2 5 +2 4 Nil

Andhra Pradesh 42 32 -2 7 +1 3 +1

Karnataka 28 21 -3 5 +1 2 +2

Arunanchal 2 0 -2 0 0 2 +2

Total -10 +6 +4

Source: Compiled by author using Delimitation Commission Data. In states not listed, there has been no change. Delimitation in Arunanchal has been stayed due to court’s intervention .

people to be represented by representatives [Verma 2008]. What harm would have been done if the number of MLAs in assemblies of states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh had been raised without raising their number in the assemblies of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, which have either reached or are close to reaching replacement rates of growth?

Parliament also failed to take cognisance of rapid urbanisation in several states. The percentage of population living in urban areas in several states has crossed the national average of 30 per cent. Many Lok Sabha and assembly constituencies are urban constituencies with a high concentration of poor people. The continued under-representation of these constituencies amounts to denying the urban poor an opportunity to express their grievances in assemblies [Venkatesan 2001].

Reserved Seats

Parliament failed to anticipate a decrease in general seats when it permitted reallocation of only reserved seats on the basis of the 2001 Census. As was expected, the number of reserved Lok Sabha seats has gone up by 10; there will be six more seats

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reserved for scheduled castes (from 79 to 85) and four more seats reserved for scheduled tribes (from 41 to 45). Obviously, the number of general seats has gone down by an identical number (Table 1). In the previous delimitation (1972-76), reserved seats had gone up in Lok Sabha, but Parliament anticipated that and raised the strength of the Lok Sabha from 520 to 545 through the 31st Constitutional Amendment, 1973 [Singh 2000]. So, with an increase that time in the number of reserved seats from 112 to 116, the general seats were also raised from 406 to 426. Similarly, in several state assemblies, reserved seats have gone up by 62 (SC-45, ST-17), resulting in a decline of an identical number of general seats (Table 2).

The increase in the number of reserved seats at the cost of general seats is a new source of conflict in dalit-non-dalit relations. The decrease in the number of general seats will affect candidates of all parties. Why should Parliament be afraid of raising the number of seats in legislatures? Some countries, such as the United Kingdom with a much smaller population than ours have more seats in their lower houses, and China with one and a half times our population has about five times more seats in her Parliament. If we are not ready to take corrective steps soon, representation and representative democracy in our country may come to operate on principles that may negate the essence of both representativeness and democracy [Verma 2003].

The time frame given to the Delimitation Commission to complete its work was too short. Initially, it was given only two years from the date of its Constitution. The Commission started functioning from July 4, 2002, and hence its term was only up to July 4, 2004. That even led to some apprehension that the government was trying to hush up delimitation before the 2004 elections. But the Commission’s tenure was repeatedly extended, and now expires on July 31, 2008. Factors like the amendment of the Delimitation Act of 2002, replacing the figures of the 1991 Census by that of the 2001 Census, dissolution of the 13th Lok Sabha and consequent re-nomination of associate members from the 14th Lok Sabha, etc, delayed the Commission’s work.

All these deficits injected by the Parliament in the delimitation exercise created several problems, and also raised several questions.

Principle of Equality

It has led to a violation of the principle of equality of representation. The Constitution (Article 81(2)a) says “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”.

With such a long freeze of 60 years (19722032), there is no match between the population of a state and the number of representatives allotted to it in the Lok Sabha. Those who come from thickly populated states represent more people and those

Table 2: States Gaining/Losing Assembly Seats after Delimitation 2008

State Total General SCs STs Seats Seats Gain/ Seats Gain/ Seats Gain/ Allotted Loss Allotted Loss Allotted Loss

Himachal Pradesh 68 48 -1 17 +1 3 Nil

Punjab 117 83 -5 34 +5 0 Nil

Uttarakhand 70 55 nil 13 +1 2 -1

Delhi 70 58 +1 12 -1 0 Nil

Rajasthan 200 141 -2 34 +1 25 +1

Uttar Pradesh 403 318 +4 85 -4 0 Nil

Bihar 243 203 -1 38 -1 2 +2

Sikkim 32 17 -1 2 Nil 13 +1

Tripura 33 30 -3 10 +3 20 Nil

West Bengal 294 210 -8 68 +9 16 -1

Jharkhand 81 49 +5 10 +1 22 -6

Chhattisgarh 90 51 +5 10 Nil 29 -5

Madhya Pradesh 230 148 -8 35 +2 47 +6

Gujarat 182 142 -1 13 Nil 27 +1

Andhra Pradesh 294 227 -13 48 +9 19 +4

Karnataka 224 173 -16 36 +3 15 +13

Tamil Nadu 234 188 -1 44 +2 2 -1

Orissa 147 90 -1 24 +2 33 -1

Maharashtra 288 234 -14 29 +11 25 +3

Kerala 140 124 -2 14 +1 2 +1

Total -62 +45 +17

Source: Compiled by author using Delimitation Commission Data. In states not listed, there has been no change.

coming from thinly populated states represent less people. That has the effect of artificially creating a differential in the value of the votes of the electorate in these two kinds of states. Members of Parliament coming from different states are not able to represent the same number of people and this is violative of Article 81(2)a [Verma 2002].

Was there any justification for Parliament to freeze the number of elected representatives in the Lok Sabha and state

COMMENTARY

assemblies for about 60 years (1972-2032)? Such a long freeze was made to ensure that the southern states which had kept the growth of population low are not put to any loss of representation in Parliament [Venkatesan 2001].But this clashes with democratic aspirations of the people. And, what made census after 2026 a cut-off point for the freeze? In fact, the NPP says that the country shall reach a level of replacement population growth rate by 2026 and hence the population is likely to stabilise by that time. This may or may not come true. If it does not, shall we then resort to a further freeze on the number of our elected representatives in 2026? Some suggest that by then, our MPs, on an average, would already be representing nearly 25 lakh people, as the projected population for the country for 2026 is about 140 crores [Kumar 2001].

Reallocation of Seats

Why could not Parliament visualise what would happen in 2031, when the delimitation takes place after the constitutional freeze comes to an end after more than half a century? By all estimates, re allocation of seats would become an exercise charged with a lot of emotion, as big differences in population of states would call for proportionate reallocations to states of their share in Parliament and state assemblies. That may lead to huge accretions in the number of representatives of northern states, which may be resented by southern states. Besides that, we would need to raise the strength of Parliament and state assemblies significantly, which may put a tremendous financial burden on the exchequer and create other problems of logistics for newly added members in Parliament and state assemblies.

The first principle of modern representative democracy is that the value of voters in different parts of a country should be the same. Nobody should get a weighted vote different from others. But deferment of reallocation of the number of representatives to Parliament and state assemblies has certainly created an imbalance in the value of votes of different states [Verma 2002].

The second set of deficits in the delimitation exercise can be attributed to the failing of the Delimitation Commission. The shortcomings can be discerned on two counts. One, points of deviation from constitutional and legal dictates; two, points of deviation from the Commission’s own administrative regulations. In respect of the first, the Delimitation Commission deviated from principles laid down in the Constitution. The Commission was required to redraw boundaries as per provisions of the Constitution, the provisions specified in section 8 of the Delimitation Act, and the following pro visions, namely:

(a) all constituencies shall, as far as practicable, be geographically compact areas, and in delimiting them regard shall be had to physical features, existing boundaries of administrative units, facilities of communication and public convenience; (b) every

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Assembly constituency shall be so delimited as to fall wholly within one Parliamentary constituency (Section 9:1, Delimitation Act 2002).

But there are several instances of the Commission having violated these norms in states like Bihar, Uttarakhand, Jharkhand and West Bengal.

Did the Commission faithfully follow the dictates in respect of reserved constituencies? The dictate was that it must conform to constitutional principles enshrined in Articles 330(2) and 332 (3) of the Constitution, and provisions of Delimitation Act 2002 (clause 8, proviso third, and clause 9:1, c & d). These provisions required that only those constituencies shall be reserved for SCs in which the proportion of their population in the general population is comparatively large and that the reserved constituencies must be spread throughout the state. But these provisions opened the floodgates of discrimination and political manipulation in respect of identification of SC seats. This is because it introduced an element of subjectivity and discretion in reserving constituencies for SCs. In situating SC seats in different parts of a state, and also locating them in areas where SCs have a substantial presence, the Delimitation Commission got enough leverage to rotate reserved constituencies in a somewhat arbitrary manner or with some prejudice. In Andhra Pradesh, dalits opposed the proposal to reserve Tirupati and Chittoor as Nellore district has a larger SC population (22 per cent) followed by Prakasam (21 per cent) and West Godavari (19 per cent). In Himachal Pradesh, contrary to the provisions of the Constitution, the newly reserved seats of Kasauli, Solan, Pachhad and Renuka are contiguous.

The Fourth Delimitation Commission had to de-reserve certain reserved constituencies, as also create new reserved constituencies. In most states, there had been resentment against the efforts of the Delimitation Commission to reserve new constituencies or de-reserve existing ones without taking the people into confidence. It is felt that Delimitation Commission has not been able to devise any sound principle as to the basis of reserving or de-reserving Lok Sabha or assembly constituencies, nor had it evolved any

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uniform and objective basis for rotation of reserved constituencies.

There are problems in respect of the ST constituencies too. In respect of STs, the constitutional provision is that only those constituencies were to be reserved for STs where their population was the largest. Thus, the identification of ST constituencies is based on objective criteria. But in Tamil Nadu, the tribal-dominated Yercaud (ST) assembly segment (with one lakh tribals) was dismantled and merged with the newly created Vazhapadi in the plains. Similar problems were reported from Chhattisgarh (which lost one Lok Sabha and five assembly ST seats) and Jharkhand, where the delimitation process had to be scrapped.

Major and Minor Deficits

As regards administrative regulations of the Delimitation Commission, we can discern both substantive and procedural deficits. Substantively, the most glaring was its inability to draw the boundaries of constituencies in such a manner so as to integrate all three tiers of our federal structures, i e, constituencies of the Lok Sabha, state assembly and municipality or panchayats [Yadav 2008]. That was possible as well as desirable. That was possible because state election commissioners, responsible for the third-tier delimitations and elections, were ex officio members of the Delimitation Commission. And, desirable, because if ever we were to have simultaneous elections for all three tiers of our polity, an integrated delimitation of all the three tier constituencies would be a boon. Moreover, the country also lost an opportunity to have a single set of electoral rolls valid for panchayat/municipal, assembly and Lok Sabha elections. Why should we have two sets of voter’s lists – one for the Lok Sabha and assembly elections, and another for municipal/panchayat elections? [Yadav 2008]

As regards procedures, the working of the Commission warranted preparation of working papers containing proposals for division of a state into assembly and parliamentary constituencies. These working papers were sent to associate members, both MPs and MLAs on the Delimitation Commission.5 But associate members were not satisfied, and wanted to be consulted before preparation of these working papers. The Commission had several public petitions and hearings. In spite of that, people by and large had no feeling of being integrated into the exercise of delimitation, and many were surprised at draft proposals as well as final recommendations.

In Andhra Pradesh, the decision to launch the exercise from Adilabad instead of Srikakulam created problems as it largely altered the geographical boundaries of a majority of the constituencies. In Tamil Nadu, the Commission made the revenue village as lowest unit for delimitation, whereas political representatives wanted the panchayat union to be the basic unit so as to avoid redrawing of constituencies leading to splitting of homo geneous areas. In Uttarakhand, parties wanted delimitation on the basis of the geo graphical area ratio, and not the population ratio as envisaged in the Constitution. In Uttarakhand, approximately 50 per cent of population is concentrated in only three districts – Hardwar, Dehradun, and Udham Singh Nagar. Would it be fair to allow these three districts to enjoy about 50 per cent of the seats in the assembly? In West Bengal, delimitation robbed Kolkata and seven interior districts of 19 of their 124 assembly seats. Delimitation in Greater Calcutta favoured the left. In Bihar, opposition parties were against changing demographic contours of about 225 of the 243 constituencies. Parties unsuccessfully argued that big rivers of Bihar like Ganga, Kosi, Budi Gandak, Sone, Falgu, etc, should be taken into consideration so that no boundary of a single constituency crosses a river. In Karnataka, parties demanded digital mapping of constituencies before finalising redrawing of boundaries. In Jharkhand, parties complained that reduction in the tribal seats would create tensions; the union cabinet had already taken a decision to exclude Jharkhand from the purview of the current delimitation.

Lack of Interest

Some responsibility for deficits in the delimitation exercise may also be attributed to people, political parties and academicians. There appeared to be some disconnect between the delimitation

COMMENTARY

exercise and them. The political parties and politicians on the Delimitation Commission were simply interested in protecting their own interests, and not in a rational redrawing of electoral boundaries. Somehow, academicians also kept away and the people, by and large, were almost unaware of any such ongoing operation to redefine the political landscape of India. But any democratic exercise, on a scale as gigantic as India, is bound to have some minor aberrations. But one thing is sure: as the elections approach, many politicians and political parties will find themselves in unexpected difficulties.

Notes

1 After the coming into force of the Constitution, the first delimitation was done through a Presidential Order (November 1951) in accordance with the provisions of sections 6 and 9 of the Representation of Peoples Act, 1950. The first three delimitations were done in 1952, 1962, and 1972. However, there was no delimitation after the publication of the census figures for 1981 and 1991. That was due to a freeze on the delimitation by the Constitution (42nd) Amendment Act 1976 till the publication of the first census figures after 2000. But, once the census figures were available, Parliament allowed only partial delimitation through the 84th Amendment of Constitution, 2001 setting up a fresh delimitation commission, but freezing the number of Lok Sabha and state assembly seats till the publication of Census of 2031.

2 The Fourth Delimitation Commission consisted of a retired Supreme Court justice Kuldeep Singh as chairman, and two ex officio members – B B Tandon, nominated by the chief election commissioner (later N Gopalaswami, the CEC himself), and the state election commissioner of concerned state. Actually, the composition of the Commission varies from state to state. It has two components: first, an all India; second, a state specific component. The chairman and the chief election commissioner or his nominee is common to all states. But, the third member on the Commission, the state election commissioner, varies from state to state. In addition, the Delimitation Commission consists of 10 associate members for each state – five MPs and five MLAs representing that state and nominated by the speakers of the Lok Sabha and the respective state assembly. The associate members had no voting rights.

3 Press Note, No 282/DEL/2007, Delimitation Commission, August 17, 2007.

4 The details of the remaining 30 LS seats are as follows. The delimitation of six seats in J and K is not yet done. Assam-14, Arunanchal-two and Nagaland-one is on hold as it has been stayed by the courts; Manipur-two seats are not final as the Union of India has filed an appeal in the Supreme Court. In all these court cases, the legality of the 2001 Census has been challenged. The five Lok Sabha seats are for the union territories of Andaman and Nicobar, Chandigarh, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Daman and Diu and Lakshwadeep for whom delimitation is not required to be done.

5 Press release, ministry of law and justice, March 7, 2003 http://pib.nic.in/archieve/lreleng/lyr 2003/rmar2003/07032003/r0703200312.html

References

Kumar, Sanjay (2001): ‘Delimitation of Constituencies’, The Hindu, September 17.

Singh, Chandra Pal (2000): ‘Political Geography in Practice: A Century of Constituency Delimitation in India’, Political Geography, 19(2000), pp 517-32.

Venkatesan, V (2001): ‘Legislation: A Bill with Limitations’, Frontline, August 18-31.

Verma, A K (2002): ‘Issues and Problems in India’s Delimitation Exercise’, Indian Journal of Political Science, Vol 63, No 4, December, pp 371-88.

  • (2003): ‘Delimitation and Dalits’, Mainstream, Vol XLI, No 33, August 2, pp 26-27.
  • (2008): ‘Political Representation and Election Commission: Issues in Electoral Delimitation in India’, paper presented at a seminar ‘Managing Diversity: The Electoral Systems and Processes in India’, organised by Indian Institute of Advance Study, Shimla, Lokniti, Delhi and Centre for Federal Studies,Delhi at Jamia Hamdard University, Delhi, February 8-9.
  • Yadav, Yogendra (2008): ‘Self-limiting Boundaries’, Indian Express, February 19, p 10.

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