Putting aside its political motivations, the 2023 Constitution (One Hundred and Twenty-Eighth Amendment) Bill brings attention to a significant aspect of representative democracy – the delimitation of electoral constituencies. Delimitation involves defining and setting the boundaries for these constituencies.
- Indian Constitution—Historical Underpinnings, Evolution, Features, Amendments, Significant Provisions and Basic Structure.
- Functions and Responsibilities of the Union and the States, Issues and Challenges Pertaining to the Federal Structure, Devolution of Powers and Finances up to Local Levels and Challenges Therein.
Highlighting the challenges in carrying out a timely delimitation of constituencies, analyse its significance in a representative democracy like India. (15 marks, 250 words).
Significance of timely delimitation:
- In India, elections are traditionally celebrated as a key manifestation of democracy in action. Equally important, though often overlooked, is the process of establishing these electoral boundaries, which has implications for ensuring adequate representation of voters’ interests and determining the number of parliamentary seats for each state.
- Since the 1970s, the number of Lok Sabha seats has remained unchanged due to the Constitution (Forty-Second Amendment) Act of 1976, which froze the delimitation of Lok Sabha constituencies based on the 1971 Census until the Census of 2001.
- However, this deadline was later extended to 2026 through the Constitution (Eighty-Fourth Amendment) Act. Consequently, the allocation of seats is still based on the 1971 Census figures, despite significant population growth since then. This situation contradicts the principles of representative democracy.
- Delimitation also intersects with federalism and the representation of states as cohesive units.
- Over the years, the population of northern states has grown faster than that of southern states, resulting in northern MPs representing more voters than their southern counterparts. As a result, the pending delimitation exercise has serious implications for both individual voters and states, particularly southern states, which may lose parliamentary seats based on current population figures.
Challenges in carrying out the delimitation of constituencies:
- The delimitation process raises several complex issues. Firstly, collecting and organising the population data come to carry out this exercise is a major task. The 2021 Census was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and it’s anticipated that the next Census and subsequent delimitation will take place after the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.
- If the next Census occurs in 2031 as scheduled, the population figures from 1971 will have influenced Lok Sabha seat distribution for over half a century.
- The freeze on delimitation in 1976 was originally driven by concerns related to population control measures and varying fertility rates among states, concerns that still hold relevance today.
- Furthermore, once the Census and electoral boundary redrawing are complete, any change in the Lok Sabha’s numerical composition will require a constitutional amendment.
- Even more challenging are the qualitative concerns that will shape the redrawing of electoral constituency boundaries. If this process relies solely on population proportions, it will result in more seats for northern states due to their higher population, potentially causing distrust among southern states.
- A recent delimitation in Assam ahead of the 2024 Assembly elections raised concerns about altering district boundaries and renaming constituencies, which could significantly impact the representation of specific communities.
As India prepares for a new Parliament building capable of accommodating over 800 MPs, questions arise about the distribution of MPs across electoral constituencies and the number of constituents each MP will represent. This highlights the need for a robust conversation about delimitation sooner rather than later, ensuring that the freeze on Lok Sabha seat allocation is not further extended. Addressing this concern is essential and cannot be disregarded.