Delimitation is the process of redrawing boundaries of Lok Sabha and State Assembly constituencies based on a recent Census to ensure that each seat has an almost equal number of voters. The last delimitation exercise took place in 1976. While the current boundaries were drawn on the basis of the 2001 Census, the number of Lok Sabha and State Assembly seats remained frozen on the basis of the 1971 Census. In 2002, the Constitution was amended to place a freeze on the exercise until the first Census conducted after the year 2026. Should delimitation be delayed any further? O.P. Rawat and Udaya Shankar Mishra discuss the question in a conversation moderated by Varghese K. George. Edited excerpts:
Lok Sabha constituencies were delimited pan-India based on the 1971 population last time. Why did we decide that we should wait until 2026 before the new population figures are taken into account?
O.P. Rawat: After the 1976 delimitation, which was based on 1971 population data, a decision was taken to freeze delimitation or redistribution of seats to different States, based on decennial population data, for 25 years. This was due to imbalances in population growth between the northern and southern States. In 2002, delimitation was done, but even after that, it was felt that this issue [of population] persists, and until after the first Census after 2026, there will be no delimitation. Projections show that northern States like Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar have decennial growth rates of 12% to 15%, whereas, in the southern States, the decennial growth rates range between 6% and 10%. From 2011 to 2021 there was no levelling. It is presumed that after 2026, this levelling will take place.
In 2002, there was no redistribution of Lok Sabha seats across State boundaries. The boundaries of Lok Sabha constituencies were redrawn, but the total number of seats in particular States did not go up or down. So, the current distribution of Lok Sabha seats is as per the delimitation of 1976?
O.P. Rawat: Yes. Also, the number of seats is specified by Parliament. And whenever there was a State reorganisation, it was specified in the States Reorganisation Act. For instance, when Uttarakhand was formed, it was specified that instead of 22 Assembly seats that it [the region] had in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand would have a 70-seat Assembly. I feel that whenever the next delimitation is taken up, Parliament will decide what the total number of Lok Sabha seats and different Legislative Assembly seats will be. Distribution among the States will be decided by the Delimitation Commission, which will be appointed under a Delimitation Commission Act. Parliament gives them directions for devising a formula for reallocation of seats.
So, even while the basic requirement is that representation will have to be proportionate to the population — one person, one vote, one value, Parliament has the leeway to fine-tune the principle in order to ensure that in some cases, relatively fewer people will continue to elect a Parliament member?
O.P. Rawat: Yes. For instance, in Tripura or Manipur, they gave two seats even though the population was not enough. Lakshadweep has one seat for just about 68,000 people. Such exceptional arrangements can always be made by Parliament. But we have universal suffrage — one person, one vote. That principle cannot be obliterated outright.
Some calculations suggest that if Lok Sabha seats were to be redistributed according to current distribution of the population, the northern States might have as many as 32 seats more, while the southern States might have up to 24 seats fewer. That scenario cannot be significantly altered by a parliamentary intervention, which might be able to deal with specific cases like isolated geographical areas or hilly areas or special categories of communities. Is that right?
O.P. Rawat: Parliament can specify that no State will lose the number of seats that it currently has.
Professor Mishra, how do you see the regional variations in population trends?
Udaya Shankar Mishra: This very question that we are trying to address in terms of delimitation had echoed when I was involved in the Finance Commission exercise of allocating population weightage on population. Earlier, Finance Commission decisions were based on the 1971 Census. But in the most recent exercise of the Finance Commission, it was moved to the 2011 Census figures. The regional variations in population count are definitely showing a demographic divergence. Even today we are violating the ‘one person, one vote, one value’ principle. Parliament has this leeway to say that nowhere can seats come down. Even if the number of seats increase overall, the ratio between parliamentary representation of the northern States and southern States might widen. So, Parliament must evolve a certain normative proportionality based on population, from which a deviation can always be considered. We are going to do the delimitation exercise, but can’t we have a fixed proportionality in the first place? And then allow a deviation depending on specific circumstances? If the quantum increases and if we keep the proportionality constant, the game will definitely become unequal.
If we think of a solution to this particular problem, we cannot be looking at count alone. There is judgment to be applied as to what count of proportionality should be maintained. There should definitely be a minimum of a normative of the count also. When it comes to representation, it is not the count, but the characteristic of representation which is more important. There are numbers that are larger and numbers that are smaller. Can we in the process be missing the voices of the marginal communities? For instance, the tribal people, the elderly? So, a standard proportionality norm has to be negotiated in such a manner that we do not miss out on the marginal voices when it comes to representation, in terms of allocation of seats. Representation is not merely by per capita representation, it involves a greater accommodation of diverse characteristics. And given India’s diversity and the unusual concentrations of certain groups in the population, this is important to take note of.
That is why we have a whole set of group rights that are part of India’s organising principles. But the starting pointing is to divide the total population by the total number of constituencies we have, to form a representative government?
O.P. Rawat: Actually, going by the book, it is about headcount only. There can be specific arrangements to give representation to particular areas, for those groups to be visible. These arrangements would be political because this is a complicated matter. It will be decided by politics, Parliament. So, they will bargain to come up with some formula. But they will never try to bring in the colonial concept of different categories of voters.
Will that flexibility be wide enough to accommodate concerns that the southern States will be overwhelmed by the rising political weightage of northern States?
O.P. Rawat: I feel that we are being blinkered in this issue, whereas Parliament and the political process will see it in totality. What happens if some areas get more seats in Parliament? What is the fear? Those are important issues to settle. I find that whether it is the south or the north, voters are mature and display in the same polling booth two different preferences — one for the State and another for the Centre. We should have faith in people. They will definitely come out of it when the issue comes up.
Professor Mishra, what impact do you see migration having on electoral politics? For instance, migrants from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh have become significant political constituencies in Delhi and Mumbai.
Udaya Shankar Mishra: Patterns that we examine indicate that mobility has increased in the last decade or so. There are two to three very distinct flows of migration happening: from the east to the south; and from the north to the west. Migrants from the east are replacing the workforce in southern States. In political terms, migrants’ agency is going to play a very significant role in outcomes. Already we see candidates raising issues and concerns of migrants, for instance in Kerala.
O.P. Rawat, a former IAS officer, served as the 22nd Chief Election Commissioner of India; Uday Shankar Mishra is professor at the International Institute for Population Sciences, Mumbai