The Election Commission’s (EC) former legal advisor has red-flagged the Union government’s order setting up a Delimitation Commission for Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Assam and Nagaland, calling it unconstitutional and illegal.
Delimitation in the Northeast
What is delimitation?
- Delimitation is the act of redrawing boundaries of Lok Sabha and Assembly seats to represent changes in population.
- In this process, the number of seats allocated to a state may also change.
- The objective is to provide equal representation for equal population segments, and a fair division of geographical areas, so that no political party has an advantage.
- Article 82: This provides for the enactment of a Delimitation Act after every Census by the parliament.
- Article 170: The States also get divided into territorial constituencies as per Delimitation Act after every Census.
- The Union government sets up a Delimitation Commission once the Act is in force.
- For the present delimitation exercise, the population figures of 2011 census shall be taken as the basis.
- The delimitation in the Northeast states will be done as per the Representation of the People Act, 1950 and the Citizenship (Amendment) Act(CAA), 2019.
Composition and modus operandi of delimitation commission :
- Exercise of Delimitation is carried by Delimitation Commission or Boundary Commission.
- Composition: According to the Delimitation Commission Act, 2002, the Delimitation Commission appointed by the Centre has to have three members:
Chairperson: a serving or retired judge of the Supreme Court
Ex-officio members: The Chief Election Commissioner or Election Commissioner nominated by the CEC and the State Election Commissioner.
- The orders of the commission have the force of law and they cannot be challenged before any court.
- Enforcement of commission’s order is undertaken as per the date specified by the President of India.
The copies of these orders are laid before the Lok Sabha or the concerned Legislative Assembly and no modifications are permitted.
History of delimitation in India:
- Delimitation is done on the basis of the preceding Census.
- The first such exercise was carried out by the President in 1950-51, with the help of the Election Commission.
- Following the Delimitation Commission Act in 1952, all such exercises have been conducted by Delimitation Commissions – set up in 1952, 1963, 1973 and 2002.
- There was no delimitation after the 1981 and 1991 Censuses because-
- Provision that the ratio between the number of Lok Sabha seats in a state and the population of the state is the same for all states
- Although unintended, the provision meant that states that took little interest in population control could end up with more seats in Parliament.
- Amid these concerns, the Constitution was amended in 1976 to suspend delimitation until 2001.
- Another amendment extended the freeze on the number of seats until 2026, by when the country was projected to achieve a uniform population growth rate.
- The last delimitation exercise between 2002-2008, based on the 2001 Census, only readjusted boundaries of existing Lok Sabha and Assembly seats and reworked the number of reserved seats.
- Recently, the President of India cleared the decks for the resumption of the delimitation exercise in the four states by cancelling the order of 2008.
- The fresh order issued by the Law Ministry said that the circumstances that led to the deferring of the delimitation exercise in Assam, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland have ceased to exist.
- It noted that there had been a reduction in insurgency incidents, making the situation conducive for carrying out delimitation.
- Hence, the delimitation of the constituencies as envisaged under the Delimitation Act, 2002 could be carried out now.
- Subsequently, the Law Ministry notified the Delimitation Commission for the four northeast states and Jammu and Kashmir.
- Northeast states are concerned that they would face the same fate as that of Jammu and kashmir.
- There is a freeze on the number of Lok Sabha and Assembly seats in every state until 2026.
- Delimitation will only redraw the boundaries of seats in each state, and can rework the number of reserved seats for SCs and STs.
- Because of exceptional past circumstances, Jammu & Kashmir Assembly seats will now increase from 107 to 114, which is expected to increase Jammu region’s representation.
Is the new Delimitation Commission illegal and unconstitutional?
- The Law Ministry’s notification violates the RPA 1950:
- In 2008, after the President deferred delimitation, the Parliament decided that instead of creating another Delimitation Commission in future, the exercise there would be carried out by the EC.
- The RPA 1950 was amended and Section 8A was introduced for this purpose.
- Hence, any delimitation exercise by the new Delimitation Commission would be declared void by the courts and result in wastage of huge precious public funds.