[In-depth] Delimitation of Constituencies – What is it? & How it is Conducted?

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In News: The Delimitation Commission on May 05, 2022, submitted its final proposal for Jammu and Kashmir. In the proposal,  it was suggested that 6 new legislative seats be created for Jammu, while 1 was to be created for Kashmir. The delimitation order has changed names of  9 assembly constituency seats. Local parties in Kashmir opposed the move citing that it was unacceptable and tilted power in favour of Jammu.

What is delimitation?

  • Delimitation literally means the act or process of fixing limits or boundaries of territorial constituencies in a country or a province having a legislative body.
  • In India, delimitation is the act of redrawing boundaries of Lok Sabha and State Assembly seats to represent the changes in population.
  • The objective of delimitation is to enable equal representation to equal segments of the population.
  • It also aims to ensure a fair division of geographical area so that one political party does not have an advantage over others in an election.

Who carries out delimitation?

  • Delimitation is carried out by an independent Delimitation Commission or Boundary Commission.
  • The Indian constitution mandates that the orders made by the Delimitation Commission are final and cannot be questioned by a court.
  • Modifications of these orders are not allowed either by the Lok Sabha or a State Legislative Assembly.
  • The Central Government is empowered to set up the Delimitation Commission for the delimitation of Assembly and Parliamentary constituencies under Section 3 of the Delimitation Act, 2002.
  • The Delimitation Commission consists of a retired Supreme Court judge, the Chief Election Commissioner and the representative State Election Commissioners.
  • Its functions include:
  • Determining the number and boundaries of constituencies in a way that the population of all seats, as far as practicable, is the same
  • Identifying seats reserved for SC/STs based on the large population size.
  • All these are done based on the latest census and, in case of differences in opinion among members of the Commission, the majority’s opinion prevails.

How is delimitation done?

  • As per Article 82 of the Indian Constitution, the Parliament enacts Delimitation Act after every Census.
  • After the enforcement of the Act, the Centre sets up a Delimitation Commission.
  • The draft proposals of the Delimitation Commission are published in papers for public feedback.
  • The Delimitation Commission also holds public sittings.
  • After hearing from the public, it considers objections and suggestions, received in writing or orally, and carries out changes, if any, in the draft proposals.
  • The final order is published in the Gazette of India and the State Gazette.
  • It comes into force on a date specified by the President.

How often is delimitation carried out?

  • The first delimitation exercise was carried out by the President with the help of the Election Commission in 1950-51 as the constitution, at that time, did not mention anything about the Delimitation Commission.
  • This delimitation was temporary as the constitution mandated redrawing of boundaries after every Census.
  • Hence, another delimitation was due after the 1951 Census.
  • As the first delimitation left many political parties and citizens unhappy, the Election Commission advised the government to form an independent Delimitation Commission.
  • In accordance with this advice, the Delimitation Commission Act was passed in 1952.
  • Delimitation Commission has been constituted four times – in 1952, 1962, 1972 and 2002.

Why is there a freeze on delimitation?

  • Article 81 of the Indian constitution mandates that the population-to-seats ratio should be the same for all states.
  • The Indian Constitution has specified the maximum strength of members of the Lok Sabha to be 552.
  • Although unintended, this provision implied that states that took measures to ensure population control would end up having a lesser number of seats in the Parliament.
  • The southern states that promoted family planning faced the possibility of having their seats reduced.
  • To address this issue, the Constitution was amended during the Emergency to suspend delimitation until 2001 through the Constitution (Forty-second Amendment) Act, 1976.
  • Despite the embargo, there were a few occasions that called for readjustment in the number of Parliament and Assembly seats to a state.
  • These instances include statehood attained by Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram in 1986, the creation of a Legislative Assembly for the National Capital Territory of Delhi, and the creation of new states such as Uttarakhand.
  • Though the freeze on the number of seats in Lok Sabha and Assemblies have been lifted after the 2001 census, the 84th Constitutional Amendment postponed this until 2026. This move was justified by stating that a uniform population growth rate would be achieved throughout the country by 2026.
  • This means that the next nationwide delimitation exercise will take place once the 2031 census is published.

What are the issues with India’s delimitation exercise?

Changing trends:

  • The desire for equal representation has evolved from the dominance of population census to other changes like economic development and demographic patterns, which are not seeing a uniform growth.
  • While some states have achieved zero population growth, the others still have high fertility rates.
  • This pattern even has a north-south dimension.
  • It is as if the economic centre of gravity is shifting south and the political dominance is shifting north.

Other difficulties:

  • After the 2031 census is used for future nationwide delimitation process, the Lok Sabha and other legislatures will have a much larger number of members, making it difficult for the Speaker to conduct proceedings smoothly.
  • Even with the present 543 members, the Speaker finds it highly difficult makes them listen to his/her directions and rulings and prevent disruption.
  • There will be a severe strain on the Zero Hour, Question Hour and the raising matters of urgent public importance, which are the vital aspects of India’s democratic principle.
  • There will be an increase in the timing of the parliamentary proceedings and the number of sittings in a year than the present.
  • It these problems are not discussed as early as possible, the government will yet again be forced to postpone the lifting of the freeze to a future date as was done in 2001.
  • Even the numerous recommendations made by various commissions over the past years do not address the aforementioned issues.

Solutions:

  • Reducing importance on population growth to 10% or even 5%
  • Shifting the focus to other parameters like per capita income and intrastate inequality

How was delimitation carried out in Jammu and Kashmir?

Previously:

  • Delimitation of Jammu and Kashmir’s Lok Sabha seats is governed by the Indian Constitution.
  • The erstwhile state’s assembly seats, however, was governed separately by the Jammu and Kashmir Constitution and Jammu and Kashmir Representation of the People Act, 1957.
  • Although the delimitation provisions of the Jammu and Kashmir Constitution and Jammu and Kashmir Representation of the People Act, 1957 are similar to those of the Indian Constitution and Delimitation Acts, they mandate a separate Delimitation Commission for J&K.
  • However, in actual practice, the same central Delimitation Commission that was set up for other states was adopted by J&K in 1963 and 1973.
  • While the1976 amendment of the Indian Constitution suspended the delimitation process for the rest of the country until 2001, a similar amendment was not made for the J&K Constitution.
  • Therefore, unlike the rest of the country, the J&K assembly seats were delimited based on the 1981 census.
  • There was no Census in the State in 1991 and no Delimitation Commission was set up by the state government after the 2001 Census as the State Assembly enacted a law that put a temporary freeze on fresh delimitation until 2026.
  • According to many, this freeze has created unequal representation for the Jammu region.

Now:

  • After the scrapping of the special status of the state and turning it into two union territories, the delimitation of Lok Sabha and Assembly seats in the union territory of Jammu and Kashmir will be according to the provisions of the Indian Constitution.
  • There will be an increase in the number of Assembly seats from 107 to 114, which is expected to benefit the Jammu region.

Why was a Delimitation Commission formed?

  • As per section 3 of the Delimitation Act, 2002, the Central Government had constituted the Delimitation Commission for the delimitation of Assembly and Parliamentary constituencies in the union territory of Jammu and Kashmir and the states of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, and Nagaland.
  • The Delimitation Commission is going to be headed by former Supreme Court judge Ranjana Prakash Desai.
  • Chief Election Commissioner Shushil Chandra and election commissioners of Jammu and Kashmir and the four North-Eastern states will be ex-officio members of the Commission.
  • Delimitation in Jammu and Kashmir will be undertaken according to the provision of the J&K Reorganisation Act that had split the erstwhile state into two union territories of Jammu and Kashmir with assembly and Ladakh without an assembly. The delimitation in Jammu and Kashmir will be based on the 2011 Census.
  • Earlier, the delimitation exercise in Assam, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh, and Nagaland was differed due to security concerns.
  • After these circumstances have “ceased to exist”, the government is planning to undertake delimitation of the states’ constituencies as envisaged under the Delimitation Act, 2002.

The Jammu and Kashmir Delimitation Commission Report

  1. The 5 parliamentary constituencies have been reorganised in such a fashion that each one now has 18 assembly constituencies.
  2. Six assembly seats in Jammu and three in Kashmir have now been reserved for the Scheduled Tribes (STs).
  3. Removing the regional divide between Jammu and Kashmir thus viewing them as one, as evidenced by the merging of Kashmir’s Anantnag area with Jammu’s Rajouri and Poonch to form the Anantnag-Rajouri Parliamentary constituency.
  4. Addition of 6 new assembly constituencies in Jammu and 1 in the Kashmir area. This has resulted in the increase of assembly constituencies in Jammu from 37 to 43, in Kashmir from 46 to 47; totaling 90 from an earlier 83.
  5. The report allegedly has violated the population criteria while awarding the seats. This is evident as Jammu with 44% population has now got 48% stake in seats while Kashmir with 56% of population now has only 52% of seats. In the earlier case, Kashmir had approximately 56% of seats while Jammu had 44% only.
  6. The commission further proposed that the Union Territory’s Legislative Assembly include at least 2 people from the Kashmiri migrant population, one of whom be a woman, with voting rights equal to nominated members, as in the Legislative Assembly of Puducherry.

Conclusion:

The delimitation process is a vital exercise for the implementation of India’s democracy. Addressing the challenges of this elaborate process is a need of the hour as the deadline for the next exercise is nearing. Shifting emphasis to other changing aspects of India’s demography can address the issue of equal representation.

Practice questions for mains:

Critically examine the challenges India may face while undertaking nationwide delimitation exercise after lifting the embargo in 2026. How can these issues be addressed? (250 words)

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