Explained: What is Delimitation Commission

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Lok Sabha speaker Om Birla has nominated 15 MPs from Jammu and Kashmir, Assam, Manipur, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh to assist the Delimitation Commission in redrawing the Lok Sabha and the Assembly constituencies of the Northeastern States and the Union Territory. The delimitation of Jammu and Kashmir was due since the notification released in the aftermath of Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Act, 2019.

What is Delimitation Commission?

The delimitation commission is a high power body entrusted with the work of drawing and redrawing of boundaries of different constituencies for state assembly and Lok Sabha election. The commission is appointed by the president and aids the election commission for the smooth conduct of elections. In India, four such commissions have been constituted in 1952, 1963, 1972 and 2002. They are also responsible for reserving of seats for Scheduled Caste and Scheduled tribe as far as practicable, in those areas where the proportion of their population to the total is comparatively large. Initially, they were to redraw the boundaries after every census for subsequent elections till the exercise was suspended in 1976 and then again resumed in 2002.  The restructuring done in 2002 is supposed to continue until 2026 as far as Lok Sabha elections are concerned.

Its powers and functions

The Delimitation Commission consists of an Election Commissioner, a retired or working SC Judge and a State Election Commissioner from the state in which the exercise is going to happen. Apart from this, the commission can appoint up to ten associates to assist in the process. The functions of the Commission include readjustment of boundaries and publishing the result along with the orders in the Official Gazette of India. For this purpose, the commission is empowered to summon any Central or State Government officer and can take the help of any state document or public record.

Legal/constitutional provisions

Article 82 and 170 of the Constitution empowers the Central and State government respectively to enact a delimitation act after every census. Further, Article 327 authorizes the Central government to initiate the delimitation process for elections and Article 329 provides that no such delimitation can be called in question in any court of the land. In the case of Meghraj Kothari vs. Delimitation Commission and Ors, SC ruled that any notification released as a result of this process is deemed to have the force of Law as any other act passed by the parliament and as such cannot be called into question by any court. Further in the case of Association of Resident of Mhow(ROM) and Ors. vs. The Delimitation Commission of India and Ors., the SC emphasized that the constitutional provisions also restrict them from looking into the merits of the end product and determine whether they are in accordance with the Delimitation Act, 2002.

Critical analysis

The provisions are called in question mainly from the fact that delimitation on the basis of population seriously harms the states that are better in implementing the family planning norms. This occurs purely because of two reasons: Firstly, state having more Lok Sabha seats naturally gain more political power and secondly according to the Finance Commission norms dilution of State funds must be proportional to the population of the state. To correct this disparity, the delimitation process was completely stopped in 1976.

However, this, being far from a perfect solution, created several logistical issues. This led to wide discrepancies in the size of constituencies, with the largest having over three million electors, and the smallest less than 50,000. To reduce such a vast gap, the process was again initiated in 2002. However, the next such delimitation is going to happen only after 24 years. Stopping the readjustment of boundaries to address the differential treatment of states according to their population was like throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

In the case of Election Commission of India vs. Mohd. Abdul Ghani and Ors, SC ruled that even if a particular constituencies’ district has been changed, the Delimitation Act doesn’t empower the Election Commission to go to the extent of changing the boundary of the constituency and only after the delimitation exercise, the required alteration can be done. This reasoning seemed completely out of the place considering the enormous time gap decided by the government between subsequent commissions.

Conclusion

The delimitation commission is involved in an extremely key process required for the effective functioning of a democracy. Unfortunately, India hasn’t been able to maintain a balance between a regular conduct of delimitation and a proper enforcement of the family planning norms. Several states have correctly initiated the process of demarcating areas for local bodies’ elections with their separate Delimitation Commissions. These local measures can also go a long way in assisting the nation-wide exercise. In addition to this, Election Commission must also be empowered to consistently update the list at a smaller level if the next commission is not going to be set up in the near future.  

Author: Mayuresh Kumar from NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad.

Editor: Silky Mittal, Junior Editor, Lexlife India.

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