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Explained: What is Delimitation and Why It is a Political Controversy in India?

Delimitation refers to the process of drawing up administrative constituencies for elections to a legislative body. Essentially, it means dividing a state or country into smaller parts, such that each part has roughly the same population and elects a representative who stands for the interests of that part in law-making bodies. In India, the process of delimitation is carried out by the Delimitation Commission.

Existing Electoral Constituencies in India.

According to the Delimitation Commission Act 1952 and Article 329A, the recommendations of the commission, as to how to best divide India into electoral constituencies, once reviewed, is backed by the “full force of law” and cannot be questioned in courts of law. The Commission is also responsible for deciding which constituencies are to be reserved for the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes. Both of these factors give it immense power to affect the electoral process in India.

Since Indian independence in 1947, the Delimitation Commission has only been constituted 4 times: in 1952, 1963, 1973 and 2002. It has been seen that with each commission, the number of constituencies in the country for the Lok Sabha has increased, to account for increasing population, the creation of new states, or other administrative changes.

In 1973, the number of Lok Sabha Constituencies was increased to 545. Since then, this number has remained unchanged. The 545 members consisted of 543 who were elected directly and 2 Anglo-Indians who were appointed. Later in 2019, this was removed, so now, only 543 directly-elected members are part of the Lok Sabha.

Now, the question arises: why wasn’t a commission constituted after 2002? And why didn’t the seats increase after 1973? Was it that India’s population stopped growing? No, of course not. Did India stop creating new states after 1973? No, states such as Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Jharkhand and others were created later. Telangana was created as late as 2014.

The answer to this is quite complicated. It is well known that as a country develops, its population growth slows down. After 1973, the Indira Gandhi’s Congress government sought to bring in a series of population control measures under the guise of family planning in order to limit overpopulation in the country.

The 42nd Amendment, brought during the Emergency, froze the number of seats at 545 and put off delimitation till after the 2001 Census. The government cited “family planning policies” as the reason for this suspension, saying it did not want to punish states with effective population control measures, as their representation in the Lok Sabha would fall compared to states with high populations.

In other words: India wanted to limit overpopulation through population control measures. But, internally within India, if some states managed to bring down their birth rates better than others, they would be faced with a disadvantage in terms of political power due to delimitation.

In order to understand this further, it is important to look at a hypothetical example:

Let’s say it’s the year 1973. Two states in India, Kerala and Bihar have the same population: 10 million. This means that the number of seats in Lok Sabha from these staters is equal. Now, the central government brings in population control measures. Now, due to whatever reasons, Kerala is able to limit its population growth better than Bihar. In 1983, the population of Bihar is 15 million while that of Kerala is only 11 million. With the new delimitation exercise, Bihar would now outnumber Kerala in terms of Lok Sabha seats. Thus, the relative political power of Kerala would decline. It would be a form of punishment for efficient policy management and would be unfair to the people of the state!

This was the problem highlighted by the Indira Gandhi government: one mustn’t punish effective policy execution. It is for this reason that the delimitation exercise was further postponed after 2002 until after 2026. Further, the 2002 delimitation did not increase the number of seats.

But there is also a flip side to the coin: How do you deny new voters the right to fair representation? One mustn’t punish the voters in states with larger populations: how does one justify one representative for 10 lakh people in a less populated area and one representative for 30 lakh people in a densely populated area?

Limiting the number of constituencies is an administrative hassle: the larger the population represented by one official is, the harder it is to manage that population.

Lok Sabha Hall of the new Parliament.

With the last extension to the number of seats being in 1973, the country is poised for an increase to the number of constituencies to ensure efficiency in administration.

India has also been preparing for it, as is shown by the construction of the new Parliament building which was built exclusively for this purpose: the old Parliament house would not be able to fit the increased number of Member of Parliament (MPs)! With the provisions of the recently passed Women’s Reservation Bill relying on delimitation, the Commission is to have an even bigger responsibility in the future.

One Projection for the extension of Lok Sabha seats after 2026.

Unsurprisingly then, the willingness of the Modi-led BJP government to carry out the delimitation exercise has generated mixed reactions. While some hail the proposed move as necessary and beneficial for the country to relieve it of the administrative pressure, others feel that it is discriminatory or unfair, as it “punishes” states who controlled their populations well.

Projections are available for the composition of seats in the Lok Sabha post the delimitation exercise: while some states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar are expected to grow significantly in power, others like Kerala and states of the North East are expected to decline in terms of relative political power.

Nevertheless, in my opinion, the move seems necessary for more than one reason: to ensure that the citizens of India have a chance to equal and fair representation, no matter where they live, to ensure that the number of elected officials matches the population of India, to ensure uniform division of seats across India, and to implement the Women’s Reservation Bill.

Another Projection from the India Today Group.

However, the process of delimitation must be frozen again, and in that time, the Indian states must collectively look to decrease their population growth so as to provide equality around the country. It should be ensured that population is not used as a weapon to gain political power, and that some states do not get cheated for the benefit of others.

Note: I have taken the photographs/illustrations from internet. They belong to the author/photographer/designer of the original article/s.

29 thoughts on “Explained: What is Delimitation and Why It is a Political Controversy in India?

  1. Very well written about the delimitation commission……linking the two aspects of politics and population is well researched….This shows how important it is to follow the doctrine of pith and substance before making any policy decision ……

  2. Very well written and analyzed write-up..!I must confess that though I did have an idea about the exercise of delimitation,but I never had the chance to know about it and read about it,so much in detail..never knew that Delimitation Commission had such un-challengable powers..I only knew that next delimitation was due only after 2025..southern states have their own concerns as the population growth there has been slower and more controlled..whereas UP,Bihar ,MP had a very fast growth..let us see how the situation unfolds after 2025,with delimitation and reservation for Women ..even Census which was due in 2021 is pending,May be due to Pandemic and lock-down.. On the whole, added a lot of indepth details to my shallow idea about delimitation exercise and its intricacies..

  3. I love your effort which provokes a laymen like us to try to understand such complex issues which otherwise we never try to delve into..after the passage of Women Reservation Bill, Delimitation has become the next big thing..from your write up, we have come to know,why…with the increase in population the number of seats in Lok Sabha and consequently in Rajya Sabha require to be increased ..last time it was done in 1972 but deferred to 2025 in 2002..there are complications like uneven growth in population in North and South..then the question of Caste politics combined with the latest reservation for women..the Census due in 2021 but deferred due to lockdown is also another issue..which otherwise we never could have known.. thanks to you now we know and understand the complexities of the whole issue..

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