The idea behind this process is to have each Member of Parliament represent roughly an equal number of voters, say Adithya A Variath and Abhishek Negi
Democracy is one of the cardinal principles of constitutional values guaranteed to the citizens of India. The State, as a social institution, draws its contemporary powers and sovereignty from its citizens. Constitutionalism demands electoral democracy and popular sovereignty, which in turn require not just theoretical representation but also equal representation. Since the end of the Cold War, the universality of elections and electoral reforms has been institutionalised by democracy.
A radical move was taken by the Constituent Assembly by adopting the parliamentary system of governance in India. It is also essential to understand that it was implemented at a time when more than three-fourths of the world’s population lived under autocratic or partly free governments. It was still a distant dream for a majority of the world population to exercise their civil liberties and to freely participate in political life. The success of Indian elections is not limited to just political liberalisation or democratic advancement. It has also played a vital role in the transfer of power from the entitled to the empowered.
A vibrant democracy requires timely reforms. The Constitution of India has put a cap on the maximum number of representatives (Members of Parliament) elected to the Lok Sabha at 550. In countries like the United Kingdom (UK), there are 650 MPs, with each one representing roughly 1 lakh individuals. In India’s present demography, each MP represents about 24 lakh citizens if we divide 1.3 billion among 545 Lok Sabha MPs. India is one of the most disproportionately represented parliamentary systems in the world. The problem is not limited to this as the bigger elephant in the room is the issue of unequal representation. India is the second populous country in the world and there is a growing need to exercise delimitation of constituencies to ensure equitable representation.
Delimitation is the act or process of fixing limits or boundaries of territorial constituencies in a country or a province having a legislative body. A delimitation commission is set up to undertake the exercise across the country. There are multiple methodologies used for delimitation such as the Jefferson method, the Hamilton method, Quota method, Webster method, etc. India used the Webster method or one-person-one-vote method. India redrew its Lok Sabha boundaries in 1952, 1963, 1973 and 2002. The Indian Constitution has laid down certain basic rules for delimitation and left out other actual procedural regulations to be decided by the Parliament. The idea of delimitation is to have each MP represent roughly an equal number of voters.
Articles 81, 82, 170, 330 and 332 of the Constitution touch upon the constitutional provision of delimitations and electorate matters. As per Article 82, delimitation shall be carried out by such authority and in such manner as the Parliament may, by law, determine.
Article 81 (3) after the 42nd Amendment provides that in this article, the expression population means the population as ascertained at the last preceding census of which the relevant figures have been published. The Constitution (84th Amendment), Act 2001 under Section 3 extended the deadline from 2000 to 2026. This was done because States like Kerala, Punjab and Tamil Nadu would lose several seats as they had brought down their fertility rates, whereas poor family planning programmes had ensured that the population in Uttar Pradesh (UP), Bihar and Rajasthan continued to be high. This would have affected the representation of States in the Lok Sabha.
Both the 42nd and 84th amendments froze the number of Lok Sabha seats from 1981 to 2031 for 50 years. The population of India according to the 2011 Census is around 121 crore, out of which 83.41 crore are registered voters. Keeping the 1971 Census with a 54.81 crore population and a 27.4 crore registered electorate as a yardstick to demarcate constituencies to represent today’s 1.3 billion people is counter-productive to democracy. Given the 2026 timeline, fresh delimitation would be done after 2031 with new census figures. This is expected to revamp the existing territorial boundaries of seat allocation to the States in Parliament.
By making the provisions of Article 370 of the Constitution of India otiose, the Modi Government has given hints of addressing the delimitation issues of the Legislative Assembly seats in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). Non-applicability of People’s Representation Act of India in J&K has been a common hindrance to the delimitation of parliamentary seats as recommended by the Justice Kuldip Singh Commission. The Kashmir Valley, comprising the total area of 15,953 sq km, had 46 Assembly seats as compared to 37 seats for Jammu with a geographical area of 26,293 sq km. There are wide disparities with constituencies based on demography. For instance, Gurez Assembly has merely 18,000 voters as against around two lakh voters in Jammu West and Gandhi Nagar constituencies. Kishtwar region has only two Assembly seats with an area of 7,824 sq km, which is half of the area of Kashmir.
Delimitation is not just a political process, its an administrative action backed with political intent. If implemented in 2031, the process would lead to some substantial problems. Politically it might expand the North-South divide. There would be a substantial increase in the number of MPs from the States in the Hindi belt but not from those of the South as these States have managed population control better.
2018 already saw the southern States coming together to express their anger against the 15th Finance Commission which determines the share of each State in the nation’s resources. They claimed that the richer and less populous States in South India end up contributing more than they receive. The success of urban development programmes and start-up hubs in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh has led to large foreign investments in the region, which are all set to economically advance their contribution to the national economy.
According to an IndiaSpend analysis of a Kotak Securities report on the demographic dividend of India’s Gangetic belt, which includes Uttarakhand, UP, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and West Bengal, if India’s parliamentary seats were to be re-allocated on the basis of population, the Gangetic belt would send 275 of 548 MPs to the Lok Sabha. It was also reported that around 33 per cent of members of the Lok Sabha will come from three states — UP, Bihar and West Bengal. Then there’s the administrative problem of gerrymandering, which is redrawing boundaries in a manner that it tilts the outcome of an election in favour of a particular party or candidate. Democracy can be easily hijacked as a legitimising tool by undemocratic forces. The 2002 Delimitation Commission had politicians as its members and this led to charges of malpractices and manipulation being raised.
With an upper limit on the maximum number of representatives mandated by the Constitution, it is upon the policymakers to look for alternatives. It can be adopting the presidential system of governance or decentralising power. The number of MPs in metropolitan cities can be reduced substantially by empowering mayors or strengthening municipal corporations.
The process of defining the areas and nature of such constituencies is important to ensure good governance and accountability. Underrepresentation of voices of the people in the Parliament is a great threat to our constitutional mandate. While constitutions of countries like New Zealand and South Africa provide explicitly for delimitation, in others like India and Ireland, it is left to the Parliament to make legislations. 2031 is not far away and it is crucial for the Government to start consultations with States and bring more legal clarity in the matter.
(Abhishek Negi is an Assistant Professor of Law at Dharmashastra National Law University and Adithya Anil Variath is a student of Master of Laws at the institute.)
Writer: Adithya A Variath/ Abhishek Negi
Courtesy: The Pioneer