Delimitation: Complex Dynamics of Representation and Electoral Gains

Experts suggest that the Lok Sabha seats are expected to go up in 2026. That is when the freeze on delimitation is bound to come to an end.

Srajan Girdonia
New Update
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The Prime Minister inaugurated the new parliament on Sunday. There have been numerous media reports describing all the details of the new structure, from its architecture to the artwork installed. The Parliament was in the news for other reasons as well as over 20 opposition parties boycotted the inauguration ceremony. Moreover, the muzzling of the wrestler’s protests also painted the event in a bad light. Amidst all these talks about the new building, one of the key changes remains neglected. The increased seating capacity for the Members of Parliament.

The Parliament building currently in use, houses 543 members in the Lok Sabha (LS) while 238 selected members along with 12 appointed members also sit in Rajya Sabha (RS). The new Parliament has an increased capacity of housing 888 MPs in the Lok Sabha while the capacity for Rajya Sabha members has also increased to 384 members. Experts suggest that the Lok Sabha seats are expected to go up in 2026. That is when the freeze on delimitation is bound to come to an end. In this article, we take a deep dive into the concept of delimitation and how it can have a significant impact on the electoral and federal dynamics of the country. 

What is Delimitation?

Article 81 of our constitution defines the makeup of the House of the People or Lok Sabha while Article 82 talks about ‘Delimitation’. It is the process of redrawing the boundaries of Parliament & State constituencies to reflect population change. This article grants the authority of delimitation to a single body namely, the Delimitation Commission.

Article 82 also outlines the rules and regulations to be followed by the Delimitation Commission during the process, two of the primary rules are:

  • Seats to be proportional to the population to the population of the state.

  • The population in every state must be similar

There are some notable exceptions for example, states and UTs with fewer populations should be given at least one seat so that each and every state has representation in the Parliament regardless of their small population. The motive behind this is to keep the value of everyone’s vote equal or “One Vote, One Value”.

Article 82 further outlines that the Delimitation Commission shall be convened every 10 years to re-draw the electoral map of the country with regard to the change in population.

Delimitation in Early India

Lok Sabha constituted 497 members back in 1952. Article 81 limited the number of MPs to 500 during that time. Delimitation Commission was first convened in 1952, it was also convened in 1963 and 1973 and the electoral map went through alteration in accordance with the latest Census data at that time.

In 1972, the Indian government brought the 31st Amendment Act which increased the number of LS seats from 500 to 525. However, when Indira Gandhi imposed the emergency, she also put a freeze on delimitation for the next 25 years, along with this, the upper limit of 550 LS seats was also put in place.

The Indira Gandhi government at the time was keen on implementing family planning and population control policies, they even added family planning and population control to the concurrent list through the 42nd Amendment. This freeze on delimitation was also justified under the same pretext.

This created a predicament for the future governments who might have wanted to go through with delimitation. States who were implementing the population control policies in the direction of the centre would lose out electrically to the states who have failed to control their population.

Vajpayee Government Freezes Delimitation

The 25-year freeze on delimitation was set to end in 2001. During this time the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) help power at the centre with Atal Bihari Vajpayee at the helm. The union government under his leadership decided to extend this ban for a further 25 years up to 2026.

To justify this move the government cited the same reasons as prior. They said that population control is still needed and they expected that by 2026 most states will be able to get a hold of their population growth rate by that time and the well-performing states would not have to face unjustified disadvantage. 

Year 2026 and the Dilemma of Delimitation

The freeze on delimitation is set to end in the year 2026. Various experts and media reports indicate that the union government is quite keen on going through with the delimitation process. However, experts raise a fundamental question, “Which census data will be used for delimitation?” 

In recent developments, concerns have been raised regarding the delimitation process and seat distribution in the upcoming census. Experts argue that waiting until the 2031 census data for the delimitation of 2026 would be a logical choice, as it would allow for a more accurate representation of the population. However, critics claim that the delay is a strategic move by the Modi government to benefit politically. The delimitation process is known to be lengthy, taking at least one or two years to complete. This means that the process may extend until 2034 or even longer.

Interestingly, the 2021 census, which was interrupted due to the COVID-19 pandemic, could have been utilized for the delimitation process. Historically, the once-in-a-decade census was never put on hold before. Some political experts suggest that the deliberate delay of the 2021 census was aimed at completing the delimitation process on that data. This way, a new parliament could be ready to accommodate more Members of Parliament (MPs).

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) seems determined not to delay the delimitation process any further. Union Minister Hardeep Singh Puri has previously stated that the old parliament lacked space for new MPs. The new parliament, with a special feature of accommodating 888 MPs, poses an issue, particularly in southern India. Many perceive the division of the 888 seats as unfair.

What Would Happen in Delimitation?

The impact of the delimitation process on seat distribution has been a subject of research. A 2019 study published in Carnegie examined how the new delimitation would change seat distribution, projecting the results based on the 2011 census data to 2026. The study suggests an increase in Lok Sabha seats from 543 to 846. Uttar Pradesh's seats would rise from the current 80 to 143, while Kerala's seats would remain the same. This has led to questions about whether states that successfully controlled their population should be penalized while those that did not gain an advantage.

The issue of vote value disparity has also been raised. Currently, one Member of Parliament in Uttar Pradesh represents 30 lakh people, whereas, in Tamil Nadu, one MP represents 18 lakh people. This implies that the value of a vote in Tamil Nadu is higher. It is argued that the system should strive for "one person, one vote, one value" in order to ensure fair representation, but the implementation of this principle remains a challenge.

South Fears Losing Out

States with low fertility rates, indicating greater gender equality and human development, have expressed concerns about the potential punishment resulting from the delimitation process. Southern political parties, including DMK, have voiced their opposition to the penalization of states that successfully implemented family planning. They argue that this unfair treatment will strengthen the feeling that the central government is not treating southern states fairly.

The impact of the delimitation process goes beyond representation and extends to policy-making. It is expected that the focus will shift towards areas with a majority strength, potentially neglecting the interests of minority regions. The north-south divide has already been a point of contention, with disparities in railway budget allocations and fiscal devolution. The perception is that southern states are not receiving equitable treatment and that the money allocated to them is not being used for development.

The Bharatiya Janata Party's strong presence in the Hindi belt and its weaker position in the south suggest that an increase in seats in the north would benefit them electorally. However, regional parties such as DMK, AIADMK, TRS, and TDP may lose out. This shift in representation may further diminish the voice of southern states, making campaigning and roadshows in these regions less necessary.

Prospective Solutions and the Big Picture

A comprehensive solution may only be devised upon extensive discussion. Some experts suggest increasing the number while keeping the same ratio of state representation, for instance, if seats in UP go up from 80 to 120, seats in Kerala too must increase from 20 to 30. Another solution is to make the representation in the Rajya Sabha stronger so that wrong legislation can’t be passed. The motive is to protect every state's welfare and interest and that largely populated states do not overpower smaller states.

India can also implement this system in Rajya Sabha - where seat allocation is not done on a population basis but on degressive proportionality - smaller states also get a boost. The degressive proportionality formula can be used to ensure proper representation of less populated states. 

Basically, federalism and democracy are systems created by us and they can be improved by us. Delimitation for electoral gain might put South India on the sidelines and this might help a few parties with their vote banks. However, in the long run, this seems like a loss-making deal for the nation’s growth, integrity and harmony. The policymakers need to contemplate decisions like delimitation extensively prior to making any decision.