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February 5, 1998


Delimitation freeze distorts constituencies sizes

The freeze on delimitation of Lok Sabha constituencies since 1971, despite a steady increase in the size of the electorate, has created a anomalous situation -- under-representation to some areas and over-representation to others.

The disparity in the value of the franchise becomes evident from a study of constituency-wise study of voters.

The National Capital Territory is a case in point. The total electorate in Delhi is now more than eight million as compared to about six million in 1991. Of the seven Lok Sabha constituencies in Delhi, Outer Delhi has a staggering 2.82 million voters and East Delhi 2.22 million as compared to Chandni Chowk which has only 360,000 voters. Delhi Sadar, Karol Bagh and New Delhi constituencies hover around the half-a-million mark.

In the 1996 election, 1.38 million votes were polled in Outer Delhi to elect one member of Parliament while Chandni Chowk needed only 207,000. This means that the value of one vote in Outer Delhi is about one-seventh of that in Chandni Chowk.

In Maharashtra, in the 1996 election the average size of constituencies was 1.15 million. However, the electorate size was considerably higher in Thane (2.826 million) followed by Bombay North (2.176 million) and Bombay North-East (1.949 million).

On the other hand, there are 12 constituencies in the state where the size of the electorate is less than a million, including Bombay South and Bombay South-Central with less than 800,000 voters each.

Similar examples abound elsewhere in the country such as Secunderabad (1.68 million) and Siddipet (1.572 million) in Andhra Pradesh, Surat (1.89 million) and Gandhinagar (1.75 million) in Gujarat, Kanakapura (1.725 million) and Bangalore North (1.538 million) in Karnataka, Lucknow (1.538 million) in Uttar Pradesh and Dumdum (1.536 million) Calcutta, West Bengal.

The initial delimitation exercise was carried out under the Representation of People's Act 1950. In 1952, an independent commission was set up to delimit constituencies on the basis of the 1951 census. The commission completed its work in 1955.

The 1963 delimitation commission, set up after the third general election, increased the size of the Lok Sabha from 481 to 490.

After the 1971 census, another delimitation exercise was taken up and completed in 1975 which took the total number of elected seats in the Lok Sabha to 543.

At this stage, 36 seats were allocated to the smaller states with a population of six million or less, such as Meghalaya, Mizoram, Goa, Andaman and Nicobar and Lakshadweep. The remaining 507 seats were allocated to the 15 major states which, as per the 1971 census, had a population of 529.314 million. By dividing this figure by 507, an average of 1.044 million was obtained. This average was applied to the population of each state. Uttar Pradesh, which in 1971 had a population of 88.34 million, got 85 seats, Tamil Nadu with a population of 41.1 million got 39 seats, and Bihar 54.

The seat population ratio among the states was about the same. It was expected that the allocation would be reviewed and modified after each census.

However the 42nd Amendment brought in 1976 froze the population figure to that of the 1971 census and deferred further delimitation until after the census scheduled for 2001. This was done to allay the fears of some southern states which felt that their success in controlling population might cost them due representation in the Lok Sabha.

If a reallocation of seats is made on the basis of the 1991 census, Tamil Nadu will lose four seats, Kerala two and Orissa one. Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan would gain two seats each while Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and West Bengal would receive one extra seat each.

According to political scientists, the principle of equality in franchise is fundamental to any electoral system. One citizen's vote should have the same value as that of any other.

The Constitution stipulates that the number of seats to the Lok Sabha from each state shall be determined in such a manner that the ratio between the number and the population of the state is, so far as is practicable, the same for all states.

Overall population increase, lowering of voting age to 18, and an intensive revision of electoral rolls have all contributed to increase in the electorate. The total electorate in the country has gone up from 363.9 million in 1980 and 498.3 million in 1991 to 592.5 million in 1996.

The electorate as a percentage of population has risen from 47.97 in 1951 to 58.8 per cent in 1991.

The average size of a Lok Sabha constituency has gone up from 949,000 in 1991 to 1.087 million in 1996, but in the 15 major states, the average is 1.11 million.

In these states, 208 constituencies have an electorate larger than the respective state average as compared to a similar analysis made in 1991 which indicated 150 such cases.

Most of these constituencies are in the urban areas.

In partly urban constituencies, the bulk of the increase has taken place in the urban segments. For example, in Nainital, the electorate went up to 1.338 million in 1996, registering an increase of 37 per cent over the 1991 figure. The bulk of this increase came from Haldwani, an urban segment, where the electorate grew by 46 per cent.

The unequal size of constituencies leads to a host of problems. For instance, no uniform limit on election expenditure can be imposed as more than a third of the Lok Sabha constituencies exceed the national average.

However, delimitation is a tedious and time consuming process which is not always welcomed by sitting members as it might disturb their winning combinations.

In 1990, after a committee chaired by the then law minister Dinesh Goswami had considered the matter, the Rajya Sabha passed a bill to enable fresh delimitation. The Lok Sabha referred the bill to a parliamentary committee but soon after, the Lok Sabha was dissolved and the matter lapsed.

In July 1996, the Constitution 80th Amendment bill, 1996, was introduced in the Lok Sabha to remove the constitutional bar on undertaking a fresh delimitation on the basis of the 1991 census. This bill follows the recommendation of the Committee on Electoral Reforms that fresh delimitation be undertaken without changing the total number of Lok Sabha seats or their allocation to the various states.

However, some political parties have now begun to question the wisdom of this recommendation and have suggested that in keeping with the significant increase in population, the size of the Lok Sabha should also be increased.

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